Autumn 2020, Hollie Pufel writes at the start of her PhD studentship:
"Regularly making headlines it is common knowledge that honey bee health is declining, leading to increased colony losses. Poor bee health can be caused by a multitude of factors, but it is becoming more apparent that disease is a leading cause of many colony losses. Sponsored by the University of Newcastle with funding from Bee Disease Insurance Ltd, Somerset Beekeepers and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the aim of my PhD project is to try and develop new tools to try and improve the management of honey bee disease. I am primarily supervised by Professor Giles Budge and co-supervised by Professor Steve Rushton both from Newcastle University, as well as Dr Edward Haynes from Fera Science Ltd.
"I did my integrated masters in Biochemistry at the University of York with a sandwich year at the University of Liverpool, using molecular methods to monitor circulating tumour cells in the blood of pancreatic cancer patients. I have spent the last three years working as a molecular biologist at Fera Science Ltd focussing on high throughput sequencing within the plant protection programme. I aim to utilise and build on my molecular experience, to use modern Next Generation Sequencing and real-time RT PCR technologies to help develop control methods for the most prevalent viral and bacterial honey bee diseases in the UK.
"The bacterial aspect of my project is sponsored by Bee Disease Insurance Ltd and the Somerset beekeepers and will focus on European Foulbrood (EFB). EFB, Melissococcus plutonius being the causal agent, is the most prevalent bacterial brood disease in England and Wales, with ~350 cases per annum. Recent data from the National Bee Unit and Fera have mapped the relatedness of the bacterial strains causing disease across England and Wales. Somerset and north Dorset contain a dense cluster of highly related m. plutonius. Using modern molecular methods, the aim is to investigate the local EFB cluster to try and understand the disease transmission events, in order to understand why this disease cluster is so persistent. Dr. Edward Haynes at Fera Science Ltd has developed a bioinformatics pipeline to sequence genomes of m. plutonius, during this PhD project I aim to refine this protocol and then deploy it to assess county-level transmission events using Somerset as a case study, where the current Sanger sequencing methods cannot distinguish between outbreaks.
"The viral aspect of my project is sponsored by Veterinary Medicines Directorate and will focus on monitoring efficacy of antivirals for two damaging, emerging diseases in honey bees caused by the RNA viruses, deformed wing virus (DWV) and chronic bee paralysis virus (CBPV). Associated with the varroa mite infestation, DWV has led to the death of millions of honey bee colonies globally, the unrelated RNA virus CBPV is a recently emerged disease that is spreading exponentially across England and Wales. There are no registered antiviral medicines available to counter these viral diseases. It has been demonstrated by Professor Giles Budge that certain treatments reduce honey bee virus replication in vitro, by combining the use of cell culture systems with traditional bee ecotoxicology studies this project aims to determine the effective safe concentrations of antiviral compounds, monitored using established strand-specific qRT-PCR and host symptom development. Modern molecular approaches, including dsRNA gene knockdown, will be used to understand the mechanism of any successful antiviral treatments.
"Having worked with plants for the last few years I am new to the bee world, but I am looking forward to learning more about their fascinating behaviours and to a new challenge."