CBPV: BDI PhD studentship

January 2020 - BDI announce sponsorship of a PhD studentship with Newcastle University: Modelling host and disease behaviours as drivers of chronic bee paralysis emergence.

Ben Rowland is from a small town an hour north of Boston, Massachusetts in the USA. He did his undergraduate and masters degree at Newcastle University before moving on to a PhD in the Modelling Evidence and Policy group also at Newcastle. As part of his PhD, Ben will be using a combination of laboratory experiments and computer models to identify the key drivers of an emerging honey bee virus: chronic bee paralysis virus (CBPV).

Over the last decade, chronic bee paralysis cases have been increasing in the UK, with little known about how or why. Ben’s laboratory experiments are designed to identify epidemiological traits of CBPV such as transmission routes and severity, elucidating bee-to-bee viral spread.

In addition, the computer models aim to simulate honey bee behaviour and CBPV epidemiology to examine multiple infection scenarios, particularly at a full-hive scale. Finally, Ben will be using the computer models to explore possible management techniques for this virus with the goal of informing beekeepers of ways to mitigate CBPV outbreaks.

Summer 2022 - update:

This will be my last update to BDI as I approach the end of my PhD in the next few months. Since this is my last update, I thought I would summarise the work I have done over the past three years.

The primary focus of my PhD was on the emerging bee disease chronic bee paralysis. During my PhD, one of my most significant achievements was getting a paper published on how historical weather patterns impacted the risk of six honey bee diseases (EFB, AFB, CBP, Varroa, chalkbrood and sacbrood) across England and Wales. Rain, wind and temperature all affected the diseases differently; some increased colonies' risk of the disease while others decreased it. If you are interested in knowing more, the paper is free to access and can be found here.

The practical component of PhD consisted of lab experiments designed to explore the epidemiology of CBP. Despite significant delays from restrictions and shortages due to COVID-19, the work was completed and helped to expand our knowledge of CBP. A good portion of the money BDI provided went towards buying the reagents and consumables needed for the molecular analysis of CBP.

The final component of my PhD was computer-based. First, I have examined the impacts of climate change on honey bees. Second, I also have determined how well different management techniques might slow the spread of CBP once a colony is infected. These analyses remain ongoing, and I hope to publish the results in a digestible format for beekeepers in the next few months.

Lastly, in July, I will be attending the International Congress of Entomology and hopefully running a workshop on analysing insect data. I will also be presenting my work from my PhD at the National Honey Show in October.

I want to take this moment to thank BDI for their support over the past three years. The funding they provided opened several doors that would otherwise have remained closed. My time at Newcastle has been spectacular, surrounded by exceptional people. I have enjoyed my studies very much and look forward to defending my thesis and then setting out into the world of postdoctoral research!

Summer/Autumn 2021 - update:

It was a busy summer trying to make up for lost time due to the pandemic. I had a busy start to one week as I helped extract and jar 150kg of honey from our bees (see picture).

Laboratory-based work continued to be slow at Newcastle due to a shortage of equipment and ensuring the safety of all people using the facilities. However, I have now completed the RNA extraction and PCR from the lab-based work I was conducting. The next step is to run the statistics and write it up.

While waiting for consumables to arrive, I have continued with the desk portion of my PhD, developing various computer models. One exciting piece of news is that my first chapter on the effects of weather on honey bee diseases has been published in Nature Scientific Reports (www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-01495-w).

Next summer, I hope to attend and present some of my work at the International Congress of Entomology in Helsinki, Finland. Finally, as I am approaching the end of my PhD, I wanted to thank you for your support over the past years.

Spring 2021 - update from Ben Rowlands

The past year has continued to be challenging due to COVID-19 and lockdown, but things are beginning to pick up again. Laboratory based research began again at Newcastle University shortly after my last update and as a group we prepped and conducted several experiments. Before the end of the bee season I conducted an experiment looking to the latency (time from infection to infectious) period of chronic bee paralysis. The findings form this experiment will contribute to the computer models I have been developing. The next step is to run the samples through PCR to quantify the viral loads. Unfortunately, most of the equipment required is in direct competition with the equipment needed of COVID tests and thus we had had delays to supply of laboratory consumables. I hope to have this stage complete by the beginning of May so I can conclude my statistical analysis wrapping up this experiment.

In the meantime, I have been doing computer-based work on various models concerning the factors effecting chronic bee paralysis. I am pleased to say that I will soon be submitting a paper for review on the contributions of climate on the prevalence of various honey bee diseases. As life returns to normal, I hope to make it to some conferences to share the work I have done thus far. Thank you for your continued support.