Bee decline PhD student wins three-minute thesis prize

University of Maryland student claims top prize for explaining thesis on parasites affecting bee decline

October 31, 2017
honey bee
Source: Getty
The parasitic varroa destructor is one of the main causes for honey bee population decline

A PhD student studying “werewolf” parasites affecting the honey bee population has won a global competition for describing his thesis in three minutes.

Samuel Ramsey, a student at the University of Maryland, College Park, in the US, came first out of a shortlist of 17 entrants for the 2017 Universitas 21 Three Minute Thesis competition for his discussion of his research project, “Varroa destructor: the curious case of the bee mite’s bite”.

First developed by the University of Queensland in 2008, the Three Minute Thesis competition challenges PhD students to communicate the significance of their projects to a non-specialist audience in just three minutes.

 After winning individual university heats alongside more than 1,000 other students, the local winners’ videos were presented online to an expert judging panel.

In his winning presentation, Mr Ramsey described how his research focuses on a parasitic mite, the varroa destructor, one of the main reasons for the decline in the honey bee population.

His paper centres on investigating how the parasite manages to have such a dramatic impact, focusing on what it eats and where on the honey bee it feeds.

The results show that the parasite only feeds on one specific part of the honey bee, the fat body tissue, an important tissue that controls nine major functions within the organism, including the storage of nutrients, the detoxification of pesticides and the production of the immune response.

Now he knows what they are feeding on, Mr Ramsey is investigating whether it is possible to introduce an agent into this fat body tissue that can disrupt the reproductive cycle of the parasite and eliminate this pest once and for all.

Presenting the research project in his short video entry, Mr Ramsey said: “We’ve been thinking of these parasites as vampires when they’re actually more like werewolves. Maybe we’ve had so little success in killing them because we’ve been trying to drive a stake through something for which we needed a silver bullet.

“Now we’re investigating the question of whether we can introduce an agent into the fat body that will disrupt the reproductive cycle of varroa when they feed. Hopefully these findings can lead to a day when this parasite is affectionately called the crisis formerly known as varroa destructor."

The international judging panel praised Mr Ramsey for presenting his project clearly and with confidence, in an engaging manner.

Highly commended was Euan Doidge from the University of Edinburgh for his thesis “WEEE are golden: metal recovery by solvent extraction”. Mr Doidge’s presentation described his research on extracting gold from recycled waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), such as mobile phones, which contains 300 times more gold per tonne that naturally occurring rocks and ore.

By designing molecules called “extractants” which are specific to gold, the student uses a solvent extraction technique to separate out gold from other metals in the WEEE, in a process that is far more efficient and environmentally friendly than mining for gold.

Entrants from the University of Nottingham and University of British Columbia came second and third respectively in a public vote that took place online in October.

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

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