Developing Monitoring Tools in Agriculture

New eDNA and eRNA tools aim to benefit honey bee health and reduce the decline in population.

Dr. Leigh Boardman, assistant professor in Biology in the department of Biological Sciences, in collaboration with Dr. James Ellis, Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory, University of Florida, have been awarded a four-year grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop monitoring tools to improve honey bee health.  

Honey bees are essential pollinators, and pests and diseases that impact their health threaten our food security. This project, “be-eDNA/eRNA: Advancing monitoring programs for honeybee pests and pathogens using novel eDNA and eRNA approaches,” will aim to develop environmental DNA (eDNA) and environmental RNA (eRNA) as monitoring tools for apiculture. This project will build on their recently published pilot project where they demonstrated the utility of eDNA as a monitoring tool in apiculture (Boardman et al., 2021).

This approach involves collecting eDNA and eRNA from environmental samples, and not the honey bees themselves, and then sequencing the resulting DNA to identify communities of arthropods, bacteria, fungi and viruses. This method has two major strengths: 1) It would allow beekeepers to screen their apiaries without manually opening up hives; and 2) it allows for early detection of invasive organisms that may be difficult for beekeepers to notice.  

The project has several proposed outcomes that include detection of honey bee viruses; and detection of emergent arthropod threats – e.g., Varroa and Tropilaelaps mites, Vespa hornets. Lastly, in collaboration with a large U.S. network of collaborators, we will test our eDNA/eRNA survey methods to determine whether they can be broadly adapted for U.S. honey bee monitoring programs. The resulting diagnostic tools have the potential to improve colony health, reduce honey bee declines, and limit the impacts of invasive organisms on the U.S. beekeeping industry. 

For more information on this project, contact Boardman at lbardman@memphis.edu.