Boulder, Tropilaelaps, Hippy Varroa and More
On today’s episode, we welcome back the good friend of the podcast, Dr. Samuel Ramsey. Also joining us today is Dr. Jim Tew, sitting in this week for Kim Flottum. Sammy joins Jeff and Jim to talk about his recent move from Maryland to Boulder, Colorado, where he is now the Endowed Professor of Entomology at CU Boulder’s BioFrontiers Institute and the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department.
Sammy also brings us up-to-date on the research on the Tropilaelaps mite in Thailand and how it could impact beekeepers around the world, should it take the path of the Varroa. Speaking of which, Dr. Ramsey introduces the listener to the Euvarroa Mite… think: a varroa with attitude hair. Regarding Varroa, Sammy is researching ways to control them by disrupting the varroa’s use of the egg yoke protein, vitellogenin, found in the fat bodies of the honey bee. It is exciting research that may one day lead to control and management options against the Varroa mite.
Also, after we stopped recording the episode, Sammy shared with us the challenges he’s faced as he worked toward’s his PhD in entomology. He was told repeatedly, that there was “something just not quite right” about him to be a doctor of entomology. There were multiple attempts to hold him back and keep him out of the program. Honestly, as two white men, these challenges are unseen by Jeff and Jim. Sammy’s experience is hard to hear. It is amazing that these attitudes still exist in such ‘learned’ and ‘intellectually advanced’ micro-societies as found in leading universities. What is unbelievable is that they are allowed to exist today.
Sammy’s personal story of overcoming the challenges and obstacles thrown at him were captured in the National Geographic 2022 Explorers Festival. We encourage you to watch this compelling and inspiring presentation.
We hope you enjoy the episode. Leave comments and questions in the Comments Section of the episode's website.
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(Boulder, Tropilaelaps, Hippy Varroa and More)
Jeff: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
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Jeff: Thanks, Sherry, and thank you, Global Patties. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor's support, and we know you'd rather we get right to talk about beekeeping. However, our great sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen. From the transcripts, the hosting fees, the software, the hardware, the microphones, the subscriptions, the recorders. They enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture has been the magazine for American Beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture Today. Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining us.
We're really happy you're here. Before we get started, just a quick reminder to subscribe or follow Beekeeping Today Podcast and give us a five-star rating. It really does help. Also, we are now adding complete transcripts of each episode on the website after the show notes, check them out. You can also leave questions and comments online. Under each show, you can leave a comment, ask a question, reply to a question, our's or of our listener's, click on, leave a comment at the top of the episode's show notes to join the discussion. Have you listened to an episode and thought, "That person sounds really interesting? I'd like to know more about them."
Well, now you can. Each episode links to a guest profile. Each profile has a guest photo, bio, contact information, including Instagram and Twitter details if they have them, check it out, and finally, share the podcast with your beekeeping friends. Email them links, or mention it at your next beekeeper meeting. Hey, everybody, thanks again for joining. We have an episode lined up for you. I know you will enjoy. Today, we welcome back Dr. Samuel Ramsey. If you're new to beekeeping and have never heard of Dr. Ramsey. Let me provide a quick introduction.
Sammy completed his Ph.D. in 2018 at Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp's lab at the University of Maryland, followed by post-doctoral training at the USDA ARS Bee Lab in Beltsville, Maryland. It was during this time that his research on varroa changed our understanding of just how these parasites actually fed on the honey bee. You see, up until this point, everyone believed the varroa fed on the hemolymph or the blood of the honeybee. Sammy's research determined that varroa were actually feeding on the fat bodies of the honeybee and the honey bee larva.
If you're new to beekeeping, you're probably saying, "Well, duh, everybody knows this." Well, now they do, but not before then, and it is thanks to the work and research led by Sammy. I encourage you to check out our other talks with Dr. Ramsey, perhaps beginning with our November 6th, 2018 interview, specifically about his research on the varroa and the honeybees' fat body. This is really required listening and knowledge for today's beekeeper no matter where you live around the world, varroa and the many diseases they vector are a serious threat to your bees and those of your neighbors.
No matter how you classify yourself as a beekeeper today, commercial, sideliner, hobbyist, natural, alternative, whatever, you must have an active varroa management plan. There's just no getting around this fact. One last thing. When Jim and I were talking with Sammy after we stopped recording, we discussed his 2022 National Geographic Wayfinder Award and presentation. In the presentation, he discusses the challenges he faced getting into and staying in the University of Maryland's entomology Ph.D. program.
This is a very enlightening and uplifting story of perseverance and staying true to one's beliefs and knowing just what is right. No matter what challenge you're facing, the positive message in Sammy's story is encouraging. You can find a link to the presentation in the show notes or on the Beekeeping Today podcast website. Now, on to today's talk with Dr. Samuel Ramsey, but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
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Jeff: While you're at the Strong Microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, their regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product updates. Hey, everybody, welcome back to Beekeeping Today Podcast. Got a little changes for you this week. Sitting in as a co-host spot is Dr. Jim Stew, from Honey Honeybee Obscure Podcast. Hey, Jim, welcome to the.
Jim: Well, as usual, I'm happy to be here. Thanks for having me, Jeff.
Jeff: Really happy to have you here and sitting across the Virtual Beekeeping Today Podcast interview table is our great friend of the podcast, Dr. Samuel Ramsey. Sammy, welcome back to the podcast.
Samuel Ramsey: I am always glad to be back.
Jeff: Yes. Thank you. Thank you so much. Well, this is probably the fourth or sixth time, depending on how you want to count it, that you've been on the show.
Samuel: Fourth or sixth.
Jeff: Well, you got to count the archive specials that we have out there.
Samuel: I think you have to count the archives. You can't remove those from the calculations.
Jeff: No, it's not your sixth time to the show, unless I've missed one, we'll go six, but you've had a lot of changes under your feet since we've last had you on. Let's talk about where are you sitting today?
Samuel: For sure I am in Boulder, Colorado.
Jeff: Ah, yes.
Samuel: Specifically because I am no longer a postdoc at the United States Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory, though I miss them very much, they were awesome. I am now the endowed professor of entomology at the University of Colorado Boulder, specifically the Bio Frontiers Institute and the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department.
Jeff: It's great to see that you're in Boulder, and as we were talking before we start recording, that's my old stomping grounds Boulder and North of Boulder. How are you finding Boulder, Colorado?
Samuel: I'm loving it here. The biggest drawback is that my family and friends are all off on the East Coast, so I don't actually know pretty much anyone around here and I'm still getting connected and meeting people, but that experience has been wonderful. The people here have been very kind. The mountains, I had no idea that there was truly a such thing as the mountain air, but there is a very distinct difference in taking a breath of mountain air the way that it just clears your brain and it just smells amazing. There are so many places to exercise here. I've gotten into biking. It's just been an amazing experience.
Jeff: It is a wonderful, wonderful area. I'm very happy you're there and gives me yet another reason to get back to Colorado and I'll stop in to visit with you.
Jim: To me, it sounds just like northeast Ohio.
Jim: Except on the mountain thing. We have air and that kind of thing here. It works out well. It works out.
Samuel: I've heard most locations these days. Do you have air now?
Jeff: I also know that you just got back or recently got back before you went to Boulder from Thailand, and that was your first trip post-COVID. Let's get caught up on Thailand and tropilaelaps and everything else that you've been working in.
Samuel: For sure. Jumping right into that, I know that we can think of it as the first trip post-COVID, but it certainly didn't feel that way. Several COVID restrictions were still in place. I went there in early January, and the annoying part there was that the day after Christmas I got COVID, so that was exciting. I already had it, but that's when I finally got a test that confirmed it. My whole family-
Jim: In Thailand, you got COVID?
Samuel: No, no, no, no. This is right before I was supposed to go, so I had to postpone my trip because if you test positive for COVID in Thailand during the restrictions they had in place, you would be confined to either a hotel room or a single hospital room until you finally tested negative, and that can take some times up to two months. I decided, all right, I'm just going to have to wait this out. I got a test couple of times a week, every week until closer to the end of January where I was finally able to go, and I knew I had to make this work. This project has been in the making for so much time.
Years raising money for this project, working with different people, establishing collaborations, purchasing the honeybee colonies, setting up the project. I was not going to miss out on this. Well, I finally got there in collaboration with Project Apis m., the Ramsey Research Foundation and the wonderful support of viewers like you. As a result of that, I was able to get there and purchase the 60 colonies that we needed in order to get this work going. We added another treatment group to the study.
Originally I was testing different means of treating the Tropilaelaps mite. Tropilaelaps mercedesae that I've been calling the Tropi mite and this parasite of honeybees, which grows more quickly than varroa has population sizes that expand more rapidly and leads to the death of the colony much more quickly. I was very concerned about this organism and wanted to see what we could do about the fact that there are no treatments currently registered for usage against this parasite anywhere in the world. A company contacted us that had these low-energy heaters that were actually wound into the wax foundation of the frames, and I was like, "Oh my gosh, I have to test these."
That would be amazing. Instead of using all the energy that it takes to heat the entire colony to try to kill mites that are inside of these cells and riding on the adult bees. They just targeted the ones that are reproducing below the cell, capping, delivering a burst of heat to each of those individual brood cells. That is a low enough energy treatment method that it could be hooked up to solar panels. The allure of something that could be carbon neutral was really exciting to me. In addition to that, we tested the normal commercially available heaters that heat the entire colony to 160 degrees.
That encompasses the brooded and the adult bees, and so a larger spread of the potential treatment itself, and then usage of formic acid which has specifically chose out of all the other chemicals available. Because it can penetrate the cell capping, and in order to really get at these Tropi mites, you got to get under the cell capping. That is where the vast majority of the population is. We got all of those treatments together, two different ways of applying formic acid, the tie method and the more westernized standardized method that we have here. Those heat treatment options, and applied them to these parasites and the data is still being analyzed.
There was quite a bit of data from this work, but some of the top-line conclusions have already surfaced. It's just been really exciting to see these data and actually talk to different people about what some of the implications are for it. Because now we know that there are some things that can really fight this mite. One of them being formic acid, formic acid in both formulations was the most effective measure to use against those parasites. We also saw some really pronounced effects of heating the colony with the commercial heaters that heated the entire colony itself. They were the least consistent of all the methods that we tried. In some colonies, we would get close to a 100% kill.
In other colonies we would get 40% or 30% or 20%, and we've been trying to figure out how to establish a much greater level of consistency with that option because it could be very effective if it could be more consistent. Unfortunately, we had a very difficult time actually testing the solar-powered heaters because the bees were so slow to actually build out wax on these frames. We had to wait for them to finally build out enough wax to rear brood inside of those frames and then wait for the parasites to infest that brood. It took quite a while, and so we ended up starting that particular trial with several of those colonies below the number of parasites that the other colonies had. Still enough for us to see some effect.
It wasn't as pronounced as we were hoping, and we are looking forward to seeing if it's possible to raise the temperature that this particular method was using because it was one degree cooler than the other heater. This possibility that at higher temperatures it may actually be more effective, but we're not sure. I'll be heading back in 2024 to run some more tests on these parasites. I will be going back in 2023 to conduct some collecting work, collecting Tropi mites for genetic data and continuing work with the USDA in partnership with them. The next time I'll actually be conducting field experiments will be about 14 ish months from now.
Jim: I don't want to waste podcast time, Sam, but can you give me those temperatures again for both the specialized frames and for the full hive content?
Samuel: About 41 degrees Celsius is the temperature, so 160 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature that the colonies were heated to. The frames themselves that have the heating coil woven into them, those were only heated to about 40 degrees Celsius, and so that one-degree difference I think could actually be potentially the reason why we saw less efficacy in that particular treatment.
Jim: How did the bees react to that 160 degrees temperature?
Samuel: That is a great question, Jim, so the bees were not pleased.
I'll tell you that actually the treatment that the bees responded to the best was actually Formic Pro. The bees didn't seem to be that freaked out by the usage of Formic Pro, at least in the immediate application of it. After several days of it being in the colony, we actually saw some die-off of brood, some die-off of some of the adult B population, likely as a result of the pretty ridiculous amount of humidity and heat that you have in Thailand. That can make form acid a lot more bioactive. When you heat the colony, you'll notice that there is a mass exodus of a huge clump of bees that all ball up on the front of the colony, and at the center of that mass I've hypothesized is the queen.
We found her at the center of the mass of two of these, but we haven't gone through every single colony to look and see where the queen is. I think that the reason for that is because sperm viability can be adversely affected by the temperature of the colony itself. She's done this multiple mating and stored the sperm of multiple males in her spermatheca. If that is heated in such a way that the sperms start to die or become less mobile, unfortunately, that can affect her capacity to be an effective queen going forward.
They leave and then they go back in the colony when we remove the heating pad. It's the brood that can't leave, and that is our primary focus because close to 100% of the population of Tropi mites at any point is in the brute.
Jeff: Let's take this quick opportunity to hear from our friends at Betterbee and when we come back, Sammy, I would like you just to give us a quick recap of what tropilaelaps mites is for those who don't know.
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Jeff: Hey, welcome back Dr. Ramsey Sammy. What is a tropilaelaps mite?
Jim: They are small.
Samuel: These tropilaelaps mites. I tell you like I wish more people knew what they were because I get very nervous about their capacity to show up here and go unnoticed. There a small mite about a third the width of a varroa mite. Your typical varroa mite is about 1.6 millimeters, the size of a sesame seed. Maybe a strawberry seed, and it's these mites that are about a third that width and they are a lot faster than varroa. Because they're not dragging around this giant turtle shell around them that the varroa mites seem to have. That shield over their body has been greatly reduced and it allows them to have much more locomotor prowess.
They're just darting around the frames of the colony really, really quick parasites. The thing that makes them so concerning is that their population size grows much more rapidly than varroa. They seem to grow a little bit faster in development than varroa, but the big reason for their ability to overtake the colony is that they don't spend that period of time on the adult bees that you see in varroa. Varroa rotate between two segments of their life cycle. One we call the reproductive phase where they are under the cell capping, feeding on the brood, producing eggs at a rate of one every 30 hours.
After they're done reproducing, they climb onto the body of adult bees onto nurse bees, and this was the phase that we used to call the "phoretic" phase. The research that I conducted as a graduate student that I was continuing to conduct as a postdoc has shown that, that's not a phoretic phase. They feed on the adult bees, so they're parasitic on the adult bees and the brood. A phoretic phase is specifically defined as an organism that does not feed on another creature and only uses them as a source of transit from one location to the next.
The Tropi mites probably because of their own locomotive capacity, they spend very little time on the adult bees. We don't know exactly why they're able to avoid the nutrition that we would expect that they would need in that part of the process. Varroa feed on the adult bees and they need that nutrition in order to go back into their reproductive cycle. Tropi mites don't. They just jump right back into their reproductive cycle, which because varroa are on adult bees between 3 and 13 days with an average of 7 days, about a week on these adult bees. That means there's a whole week to two weeks that their reproductive cycle is suspended and the Tropi mites just jump right back into reproduction. It allows their population sizes to grow two to three times faster than varroa on average and that is really concerning.
Jim: What are the mellifera keepers there doing?
Samuel: I love your questions, Jim. This is great. They really help with telling this story because a big part of why I wanted to do this work in Thailand is because I've invested so much time in learning Thai culture in learning the language and that's allowed me an in with a lot of Thai beekeepers. Where I can talk to them and connect with them and they'll share things with me. Something that some Thai beekeepers have shared with me in the past is that under most circumstances there's not a lot that they can do to kill the mites directly. Their primary means of controlling the population size is keeping the entire colony from having too much brood.
You'll never see these hive boxes stacked on top of each other as is typical here in the US. A single box will suffice. You basically load it up where only half of the box is taken up. The bees build out to the other side of the box rearing a substantial amount of brood. When they fill the whole box, you take all that brood out and you let them start over. A colony that is full of brood is a colony that is going to die because the Tropi mites will overrun that colony so rapidly. They need that brood to reproduce. That doesn't allow your colony to get strong to really have contract strength. If you're trying to make honey or you're trying to really pollinate a bunch of plants, there's not a lot that you can do with that small colony.
Beekeepers there when they want to make sure that they're able to get honey, and when they want to pollinate the Lychee trees, they will treat these colonies. They know that formic acid has been effective against varroa in the past. A really exciting thing is that formic acid is used constantly in Thailand, in the rubber plantations that are spread throughout the country. Industrial strength formic acid, which is 85% to 90% formic acid is used on those farms to solidify the liquid rubber that comes out of those trees into the more solid substance that is utilized in tires and bubble gum and stuff.
There's rubber in your gum anyway, so taking that super concentrated formic acid, they soak these chunks of wood basically paint stirrers. They soak them in formic acid and then slide them into the front of the colony and that formic acid then aerosolizes in the colony. It gets to a high enough concentration where it can penetrate the cell capping and then it kills the parasites under the cell capping. That's a very low-cost way of treating these parasites. I think it's very industrious and was really proud to see that kind of ingenuity.
Jeff: it's effective against the varroa at the same time.
Samuel: Exactly. Oh, it kicked both of the mites' butts. I would expect that it would even be effective against the euvarroa mite, which I am also working on studying now and got to encounter for the very first time in real life in January of last year. Have you guys even heard of that euvarroa?
Jeff: My varroa euvarroa.
Samuel: E-U-V-A-R-R-O-A. Euvarroa.
Jeff: All right. Not familiar with that at all.
Samuel: Oh, these things are wackadoodle so they're like varroa but hippies so back in the day, they used to yell, "Cut your hair, you're hippies." If you see a hippie-style euvarroa mite, you'll notice very rapidly that the hairs on the back end of its body, which are normally very short, in varroa are really long. They just let themselves go. In most other ways, they look pretty much just like varroa mites. They're a little bit smaller and they're much rounder, so they're circular instead of ovals. They have those long hairs but what makes them really interesting is that they live a lot longer than varroa. You can expect a varroa mite to live 42 to 60 days. You can expect a euvarroa mite to live for a year and a half.
Jeff: Is this in Thailand?
Samuel: This is in Thailand. They better not be in the States. That would be a problem but APHIS, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service is working really hard to make sure that these kinds of things don't just show up without us not knowing it. I actually have a partnership with them to help in those efforts. I'm collecting these parasites so that we can genetically analyze them, get their genome sequenced. All of that for the goal of making sure that if they are to arrive or even if we are just anticipating that they could make their way here. We can test hive debris and look for their genetic information and did I say debris? We can test hive debris and look for their genetic information.
Jim: We're going with you. I got a lot of debris right here in my shop.
Samuel: Oh my goodness. We really need to work on how we choose to spell words in English. [crosstalk]
Jim: We really do.
Jeff: Back to the Rocky Mountain High that you're talking about, the altitude. Blame it on that.
Samuel: Yes, exactly. No, these euvarroa mites are parasites of the dwarf honeybees so we know that there are three subgenres of honeybees. The ones that we know of are the cavity-nesting bees. They're always hiding in a tree hole or something and that's how they do their thing. That's the adaptation that's allowed them to spread all over the world because you can control the temperature and humidity inside of a cavity. If you just build out a big comb on the side of a tree, it's very difficult for you to climate control that place. You got to stick around an area that's really warm all year long. Hence why the rest of the bees are confined primarily to the tropics.
There are the cavity-nesting bees, the giant honeybees, and the dwarf honeybees. Tiny little bees make their honeycomb wrapped around a branch so the part around the branch is the honey and then the part hanging from the branch is where all the brood is and then the pollens are just in between. It's a really cool colony structure. The euvarroa mites can be fairly highly prevalent in some of these colonies after they've gotten older. Unfortunately, it's been shown that the euvarroa mites are capable of not just reproducing on Apis mellifera but they produce more than twice as many offspring. If they're on Apis mellifera then the dwarf honeybees.
It is my expectation that the euvarroa being in such close contact with Apis mellifera now will make that host switch. That would allow them to then spread much farther than they are. Got to keep an eye on all of these parasites and can't take our eye off the ball.
Jim: Well, I'm overwhelmed. I'm still trying to control varroa and that's like using an LED watch. This is so yesterday kind of thing.
Samuel: Well, Jim, I'm glad that you are working on trying to control varroa because there are some people who have just given up on these things. They are annoying. They can be very difficult to get a handle on, especially at particular times of year. It is really important that we don't just allow our bees to basically be mangy cattle roaming fields. I'm working on that too, by the way.
I'm not just conducting research overseas though I have to say thank you to the Bio Frontiers Institute and EBIO here at CU Boulder because they are helping me establish a research station in Thailand so that I can conduct this research on Tropi mites there. When I'm here in the US at my super cool lab here, we're actually working on doing everything that we can to kick the varroa mites. Right now, I've just submitted a paper where I am focusing my attention on the discovery that I made as a graduate student. How to utilize our understanding that the varroa mite isn't feeding on the bees blood, it's feeding on the fat body.
How can we use that discovery to kill those parasites? The paper that I just submitted with a very strange name, it's called Kleptocytosis. This paper is about a weird pathway in varroa that we are currently charting here at the lab and figuring out how to disrupt it. The varroa might have this weird ability. They are a parasite, they're feeding on a host and they have a very specific schedule that they absolutely have to stick to.
If the cell, if they are too slow and reproducing and the larvae transition into a pupa, and the pupa turns into an adult and choose its way out before their babies reach adulthood. That's the end for all of them. That parasite has wasted its time and all of its resources and all of its babies are going to die. They have to be able to accelerate the reproductive processes to keep up with just that what little over a week amount of time that they have to get a baby all the way to adulthood.
Well, how do you do that and how do you produce an egg that is absolutely gigantic? It is close to or more than 30% of that mites body volume is in a single egg that they produce every 24 hours or every 30 hours. If you're going to produce an egg that huge, pretty much every day, you got to have some weird way of doing this. Because there just doesn't seem to be enough nutrition in the world for you to make that happen.
Well, instead of them going through normal digestive processes, I mean every creature eats stuff and then breaks it down and then uses those molecules to build what it needs, but they've decided to do something much more clever. They attach themselves to the host, they feed on the fat body tissue and what's inside of fat body tissue. A ton of vitellogenin. Vitellogenin is an egg yolk protein. It's the precursors that the queen bees use to actually create the egg yolk inside of their eggs. That is the largest biochemical input, the hugest resource and amount of energy that's put into these eggs is in building that incredibly nutritive egg yolk.
That the embryo will use as a source of energy and source of amino acids to structure its own body. If you don't put enough egg yolk into an egg you don't get an embryo that develops. You just have an enviable egg. Instead of the mites making tons of egg yolks themselves they siphon the egg yolk proteins from their honey bee host and load it into their own eggs. A process that I've been referring to as kleptocytosis which would literally in Greek be provisioning a cell with something stolen. This kleptocyonic process is really fascinating because we know that the mites are capable of producing egg yolk proteins.
When we looked at their eggs specifically one of the two egg yolk proteins that they create is totally missing from their eggs. It doesn't even go in there. They're using it for something else entirely. We don't even know what they are doing with it but they've decided to replace it instead with what they've stolen from these bees. If we can find a way to disrupt their capacity to get these proteins from the bees into their eggs. We can stop them from making viable eggs or at the very least slow the development of their offspring so that they miss their schedule. That's what I'm working on now.
Jim: So far so good, right?
Samuel: Yes, so far so good. I'm very excited.
Jim: You expect to have a product out what next summer?
Samuel: I wish that things worked that rapidly but it is unfortunate. The minimum for these kinds of things is typically 10 years. We're still in R&D for this sort of thing but just to let you know. I know that everybody who's trying to couldn't control varroa is really annoyed by these parasites and it feels like you're just on a treadmill and you have to run as fast as possible just to remain in place. I understand that and I believe that we can do something about that. In the interim, please maintain patience. Please keep running as best you can because we can't allow these parasites to overtake the bees and to diminish the welfare of one of the most important organisms on our planet.
Jim: I agree. I'm sold completely and I'm on that treadmill you're talking about.
Samuel: Yes, me too.
Jim: I'm also an old guy and I knew bees before varroa. It's always so frustrating to have this distant memory now of what it was like to keep bees and not even be able to spell varroa.
Samuel: You're a lucky man, Jim, because I do not have any memory of that.
Jim: I cannot say that I'm lucky. It's a useless memory.
Samuel: No, no, it's a memory that one day you may be able to get back to and see as a reality.
Jim: I would love that.
Samuel: Unfortunately, for me, I have no memory of that. Beekeeping has always been struggle for me and for my generation. We've all been running on that treadmill. I was negative too when varroa arrived.
Jim: I didn't feel old until just about now. I was feeling fine just about two seconds ago. This is really exciting. The whole idea of disrupting that cycle of developing the varroa egg yolk for lack of a better term would be wild if that could actually bear fruit.
Samuel: Yes. Oh, it certainly would be.
Jim: I don't even know where to start. Would something like that be a gene approach?
Samuel: We're figuring that out now. Right now the best idea that we have available to us is to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. A chemical approach, a genetic approach, just looking at different ways of disrupting the actual pathway. After we have confirmed that disruption of the pathway officially does result in these inviable eggs then we can figure out how to best tailor it such that it's something that is economically viable and won't break the bank.
Jeff: Samuel, you keep saying we, do you have graduate students and postdocs and whatever.
Samuel: The Ramsey lab. It is remarkable to me that I just got here, and I had multiple students coming. I've got like eight different students who have asked about potentially being in my lab. I've already got two postdocs, one in Thailand currently, one here in Boulder who are working with me on the different projects that we're conducting here. It's been incredible. I'm also partnering with different labs here at Bio Frontiers. The genetics lab is helping to look at the genetics of the varroa mite, the Tropi mite, and the euvarroa mite. One of the biochemistry labs here at Bio Frontiers is working with helping me on this project for all the biochemical elements of it that are not within my wheelhouse. They have been marvelously helpful producing all kinds of great ideas. Then microscopy core has been incredible. We've got some remarkable images that you're going to be seeing soon of these fluorescent tags that we've been able to attach to the molecule to see how well we can disrupt it.
Jim: That's a team now. That's a team.
Jeff: Of course, none of that will work against I assume the tropilaelaps so this is a single-solution approach.
Samuel: We don't know that but I'm a little bit concerned that that may well be the case. That's based on one observation that I've noted for some time now. Varroa needs to feed on the adult bees and this work on the kleptocytosis pathway has shown why varroa needs to feed on the adult bees. There are different sets of proteins, egg yolk precursors in the fat body of adult bees than in the fat body of the brood. They need both sets of egg yolk precursors to make the egg yolk for their eggs. They have to siphon enough of it from the adult bees and store it away, and then climb into the cells and get enough of what they need from the juveniles in order to actually make these eggs.
The Tropi mites aren't going after the adult bees. Either they're only working with the egg yolk precursors that are present in the brood or they're making their own. We're going to have to find an entirely different method of disrupting those parasites. Ingenuity, I think that I've got enough of it that we can figure this out that round of parasites as well.
Jeff: I encourage anybody who's out there listening to the podcast of this episode, if you don't know anything about tropilaelaps mites make sure you go out and check on numerous videos on YouTube. You'll start itching immediately. You see them run around. They run a hundred miles an hour it seems.
Samuel: They are so quick.
Jeff: I can just imagine them just being all over the body. It's just like makes me itch just thinking about it. This is always the fastest time on any episode is talking with you, Sammy, and it's really enjoyable. Before we let you go because we're coming up on our time. You were doing some work with formerly known as Asian Giant Hornet in Thailand. Can you give us any kind of latest updates? I know they haven't found any in Washington State and Canada yet this year, [crosstalk] but still the research is important.
Samuel: Since I became an entomologist, even before I was officially classed as one. Some of my favorite parts of working in entomology have really been the detective work. Knowing and understanding the biology of an organism and using that understanding of it to make the sorts of inferences that can tell you how it got there, what it's doing, why it's here, and how to get rid of it. I did that kind of work working for a pest management company called American Pest in Maryland. That was the first time that I really got paid to do this kind of stuff and draw these sorts of conclusions. It was amazing.
Now the USDA APHIS has specifically asked me to do that sort of thing. We're working hard on better understanding how the different hornets that have arrived in the US actually got here. We have noticed that there's a fair amount of genetic diversity in these hornets to the extent that it's not possible that it was just one introduction of a hornet. It seems like multiple introductions of multiple different individuals and we have seen hornets from other species introduced around the same time all of which from Asia. We have to understand how they're getting here. One of the most important elements of understanding that is knowing where they came from and then we can start answering the why.
I'm collecting hornets for that postdoc that I told you about who is currently in Thailand, Sanchai Naree. He is doing a wonderful job of helping get the collection process started before I even arrive. We've already collected some in my time in Thailand this year from January to April. It's an ongoing process that will probably continue for a few more years as we collect samples from all the different areas of Asia and begin to better understand the genetic landscape of the different populations.
Jeff: You're setting the seeds for a great conspiracy novel on Bioterrorism.
Samuel: That would be the most dramatic of all the possible conclusions that they were sent here intentionally to terrorize us.
Jeff: Oh, you never know.
Samuel: There's also the possibility that they were sent here intentionally not to terrorize us, but intentionally to be a source of protein. They actually produce this goo called Vespa amino acid mixture because the adult bees aren't capable of feeding on solid food. They can't eat meat but still need a lot of protein. They feed huge chunks of meat to their babies, their babies chew it all up, and then regurgitate this blob of really, really, really dense protein for the adult bees. It's actually one of the most efficient sets of proteins that we as human beings can consume and use to build muscle.
It allows for the much more effective movement of muscles inside of the body and so there are some people who use them as a supplement. There are some athletes who have been using them. It's possible that maybe somebody wants to start a business here and sent some hornets over so that they can seed an industry that we don't currently have.
Jim: Where is such an industry?
Samuel: Those industries thrive in Asia, in Japan, in Korea, in different parts of Asia. There are individuals who are actually raising these hornets intentionally and collecting this Vespa amino acid mixture so that it can be sold commercially, and it is being sold commercially.
Jeff: I had no idea. Sammy, I'm eyeing your bike behind you. You may remember I'm an avid cyclist. We use the gel packets and energy for long distance cycling endurance stuff. I can see, just reaching in your back jersey pocket and grabbing a couple grubs and squirting them into your mouth.
Samuel: See, it's the grub part that I think people would freak out about, but when you can separate people from where different foods come from. As long as they don't have to see how the sausage is made, I can very easily see some very clever marketing for wasp goo.
Jeff: I'm just thinking, instead of aluminum foil wrapper along the side of the road, you just cast away the skin and it biodegrades.
Samuel: It's true.
Jeff: I'm going to be rich. I'm going to work on this.
Samuel: You know what? You really should. You really should. Make sure you get some slick marketing going. There's Monster energy drinks, now you need Vespa energy drinks.
Jim: I've got my eye on you biking people. I think you biking people have alternative agendas here.
Samuel: You might not be wrong about that, Jim.
Jeff: Go faster, farther, longer. All right. Dr. Samuel Ramsey, Sammy, really, really enjoy having you on the podcast, look forward to having you back and bringing us up to date on everything Tropilaelaps, varroa, Asian giant hornet, anything else that you come across.
Samuel: It seems that I am officially a friend of the show now.
Samuel: You guys call me anytime. I love getting the opportunity to talk to you guys and to the entire audience that you've amassed here.
Jeff: We enjoy having you on.
Jim: Doctor, I personally enjoyed it too. [music] I'm a much better person for having sat through your lecture. Thank you for helping me, sir.
Samuel: Thanks, Jim. Because of you, it wasn't a lecture, it was a great conversation. Thank you.
Jim: Oh, okay.
No, I learned a lot.
Jeff: Jim, I'm glad you had an opportunity to be on the episode with Dr. Ramsey, with Sammy. It is just so much fun having him on the show, always so entertaining and always so informative.
Jim: My brain hurts, Jeff. I was trying to assimilate and absorb, and he's so energetic, dynamic, I just had to run the entire time to keep up with him.
Jeff: I don't even know where to start. I'm glad that he's looking in the tropilaelaps because, after one of the times he was on, I went out and looked at that on the internet, and, as I said when we're talking to him, the YouTube videos of the tropilaelaps mite are just frightening.
Jim: Right. They really are.
Jeff: Seeing varroa is one thing, but seeing the tropilaelaps run around, it would just be very saddening.
Jim: I admitted during the program, I'm overwhelmed, because I'm still trying to control varroa, do something with varroa, learn to live with it, coexist, and now you hear that these other things are on the horizon. I've got to say, "Not now, not now." I've got to get this thing under control with varroa first before we take on something else. I hope we have some time.
Jeff: The saving grace is that the Formic Pro, or the formic acid, seems to be effective on both, so maybe there's something there.
Jim: All right. I'm overwhelmed.
Jeff: I am too. That about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate US five stars on Apple Podcast or wherever you download and stream this show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on Reviews along the top of any web page.
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Cohost, Author, PhD
Dr. James E. Tew is an Emeritus Faculty member at The Ohio State University. Jim is also retired from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. During his forty-eight years of bee work, Jim has taught classes, provided extension services, and conducted research on honey bees and honey bee behavior.
He contributes monthly articles to national beekeeping publications and has written: Beekeeping Principles, Wisdom for Beekeepers, The Beekeeper’s Problem Solver, and Backyard Beekeeping. He has a chapter in The Hive and the Honey Bee and was a co-author of ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture. He is a frequent speaker at state and national meetings and has traveled internationally to observe beekeeping techniques.
Jim produces a YouTube beekeeping channel, is a cohost with Kim Flottum on the Honey Bee Obscura podcast, and has always kept bee colonies of his own.
Samuel Ramsey, Ph.D. Marvin Caruthers Endowed Professor of Entomology *National Geographic* Explorer BioFrontiers Institute
Dr. Ramsey received his B.S. in entomology from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in entomology from the University of Maryland College Park. He completed his post-doctoral training with Dr. Jay Evans, Steve Cook, and Daniel Sonenshine at USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory and now serves as Endowed Professor of Entomology at CU Boulder’s BioFrontiers Institute and the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department.
Featured on Hulu’s Docuseries: Your Attention Please as well as in the Washington Post, on NPR, CNN, Wired, CBS This Morning, Khan Academy, Seeker, The Today Show and several local news segments, Ramsey is celebrated as an engaging science communicator. He uses this talent to make science more accessible to a broad audience.
His nonprofit, The Ramsey Research Foundation, works to remove barriers that slow the progress of and decrease access to science by developing novel pathways for scientific funding and by removing paywalls that keep the public from engaging with published scientific work.