Land & Environment

Sticky Problem: USU Undergrad Researcher Investigates Honey Bee Decline

USU undergraduate researcher Matthew Thompson, right, with USDA-ARS support scientist Ellen Klinger, left, is investigating the effects of pesticides on honey bees. He presents research to Utah legislators Feb. 28.

Modern chemical ingredients known as “adjuvants” make cosmetics, cleaning solutions and paints, as well as pesticides, glide on with ease in cost-effective application. But one type of these, potent organosilicone surfactants, may spell trouble for bees.

With mentors from the USDA-ARS Pollinating Insects and Systematics Laboratory at Utah State University and USU’s Department of Biology, Aggie undergraduate researcher Matthew Thompson is investigating the effects of these widely used adjuvants on honey bees.

“Scientists suspect these organosilicones, used to boost the performance of pesticides, play a role in loss of honey bee colonies and overall pollinator decline,” says Thompson, a biology major, USU Presidential Scholarship recipient and Undergraduate Research Fellow, who hails from Layton, Utah. “We’re trying to understand more.”

Thompson is among about 30 USU scholars poised to present their research to state legislators and the public Feb. 28, 2018, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. in Utah’s Capitol Rotunda during 2018 Undergraduate Research Day in Salt Lake City.

“We suspect organosilicones and pathogens, especially viruses, interact, when pesticides are applied to crops,” says Diana Cox-Foster, USDA Bee Lab research leader and mentor to Thompson. “We’ve found these chemicals make honey bee larvae significantly more susceptible to deadly viruses, including the Black Queen Cell Virus.”

Thompson, who is also mentored by Karen Kapheim, USU Department of Biology and USU Ecology Center faculty member, is exploring the possible effects of organosilicones on adult bees.

“It’s an interesting project and I love being involved in hands-on research,” he says. “The uncertainty and complexity of exploring scientific questions is exciting to me.”

Prior to joining the bee lab project in May 2017, Thompson says he had no idea of the vast variety of bee species and how important lesser known native species are to overall food pollination.

“Declines in bee populations are a critical environmental concern,” says the 2013 graduate of Utah’s Davis High School, who plans to pursue graduate study following USU graduation. “Finding out what’s happening to bees is critical to agriculture worldwide.”

Related Links
USU Scientists Present Research on Utah’s Capitol Hill – 2018 
USU Department of Biology 
USDA-ARS Pollinating Insects Research Unit 
USU Ecology Center 
USU College of Science 

Contact: Diana Cox-Foster, 435-797-0530, Diana.Cox-Foster@ars.usda.gov
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu

Undergrads gather in Utah's State Capitol Rotunda to present their research to legislators at the annual 'Undergraduate Research Day’ on Capitol Hill event. USU scientist Matthew Thompson participates this year on Feb. 28. Courtesy iUTAHEPSCoR.

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