Melanie Handley Does Summer Research on Bee Parasite

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Melanie in the Rebecca Irwin Lab
Melanie Handley in the Rebecca Irwin Lab

Biology major Melanie Handley studied the transmission ecology of a bee parasite during a 10-week research internship this summer (2019) in the BeeMore (Bees and Microbes in Organized Research Experiences) Program at North Carolina State University.  The program is funded by the USDA - NIFA Research and Extension Experiential Learning for Undergraduates (REEU) Fellowships Program and is designed to promote awareness and better understanding of bee biology and microbes.  Read what Melanie has to say about her summer internship:

“I worked closely with Simon Pinilla-Gallego (a graduate student in the entomology program) in Dr. Rebecca Irwin’s ecology lab.  We researched the possible relations between flower morphology and the transmission of a bumble bee parasite called Crithidia bombi. This was an important research topic because bumble bees are important for their characteristic and efficient method of buzz pollination. Wild populations of bumble bees are declining, and this parasite is one of the causes. Since the parasite is spread by infected feces from flower to flower, part of the research done involved figuring out where the bees most often defecated on a flower.

“With this knowledge, we inoculated flowers (four different morphologies) to mimic the same conditions wild bees would be exposed to, and recorded how long they visited the infected flowers. We would then house the bees that visited the flowers for a week to give the parasite time to establish itself if it had been ingested. We dissected the bees after a week and counted Crithidial cells. After running our data through “R,” it seemed to show that flatter, open-faced flowers transmit the parasite more successfully than narrow and small flowers (even if they are in an inflorescence).

“I aim to become a plant pathologist that promotes sustainable methods of integrated pest and pathogen control for crops. I want to ensure the longevity of farmers’ livelihood and land. I would like to become involved in promoting urban agriculture in cities that have the infrastructure for sustainable systems like aquaponics, hydroponics, aeroponics, vertical farming etc. that can be very productive in smaller spaces. I’d like to show people that they can grow their own food even in small spaces. I’m also learning Spanish because I want to become an advocate for migrant farmworkers.

“I should be graduating in Spring 2020, and for my last year at UNCP, I am proposing my own research on “The Effects of entomopathogenic fungi as endophytes in crop plants.” Dr. White and Dr. Pereira are my mentors, and I am currently deciding which plants and fungi to use -- probably a plant that is culturally important to the Lumbee tribe or an economically important crop of Robeson County. I’ve been in the Esther G. Maynor Honors College since 2016, and a member of the Greener Coalition since early 2017. In April of 2018, I was accepted into the RISE program, and that’s how I was introduced to research in the sciences!”

Melanie, who is from Siler City (small town in Chatham County, North Carolina), is completing a track in Botany and a minor in Sustainable Agriculture.