AIT joins forces with University of Minnesota to tackle complex diseases affecting health of our bees

Professor Neil Rowan, Director of the Bioscience Research Institute at AIT is working to investigate the decline in honey and bumble bee health and wellbeing.

Professor Neil Rowan, Director of the Bioscience Research Institute at Athlone Institute of Technology has joined forces with an internationally recognised researcher in Ecology to investigate the decline in honey and bumble bee health and wellbeing.  

Dr Michael Goblirsch, a leading researcher from University of Minnesota, USA, will spend several months in the laboratories with Professor Rowan investigating new enabling technologies for tacking complex parasites and viruses affecting bee health, following his award of the prestigious OECD CRP Agriculture Fellowship. 

Welcoming the development Professor Rowan said: “I look forward to collaborating with Dr Goblirsch in pursuing potentially ground-breaking research on the efficacy of new disease mitigation tools as healthy bees are central to ensuring our vital pollination and ecosystem services are being met. 

“Eighty-seven out of the main 124 crops used directly for human consumption require or benefit from animal pollination: annually, pollinator services contribute €153 billion and €54 million to the global and Irish economies respectively. Unfortunately, many managed and wild bee species are in such severe decline that food security is being threatened worldwide.  
“More than half of Ireland’s bee species have experienced substantial declines since the 1980 so this issue is of great national concern, evidenced by the recent publication of the All Ireland Pollinator Plan.  Over 90% of our habits in Ireland are in decline. A critical contributing factor to pollinator decline is an increase in the spread of a broad range of parasites, including mites, protozoans, bacteria, fungi and viruses. This is an area our collaborative research will seek to address”. 

Dr Goblirsch, who developed the first in vitro cell culture bioassays for bee research, said: “I am very excited about collaborating and sharing knowledge with Professor Rowan to mutually address the pressing problem of bee parasites and viruses and in so doing, explore new ways of destroying these pests”. Dr Goblirsch’s work to date will enable studies on the investigation of the efficacy of new technologies and innovations for mitigating disease that will limit the use of actual bees.  

This follows on from exciting complimentary research published by Prof Rowan’s research group on the use of pulsed light technology for killing Crithidia bombi, the main parasite affecting bumble bee health. This was a collaborative project involving Professor Rowan, Dr Erin Jo Tiedeken and John Naughton from AIT and Professor Jane Stout from Trinity College Dublin. As a result of these platform studies, Professor Rowan was awarded an EPA-funded PhD studentship.  

According to Professor Rowan: “This project will not only create a critical pool of highly trained scientists in these cross-cutting areas, but it will yield applied knowledge and technologies that will be complimentary of existing approaches and interest to all those working with bees”. 

Welcoming the cross-institute collaboration, Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, President of AIT said: “this collaborative research highlights the strides AIT and its researchers are making in priority areas of benefit to society nationally and internationally. Nurturing researcher mobility and fostering collaborations with leading scientists from benchmarking international institutes will inform sustainability and will lead to much-needed solutions to complex problems. Such research, for example, also highlights core strategic activities that will underpin future ambitions for AIT to achieve Technology University status.”