If you read this blog – or any scientific blog, for that matter – on a consistent basis, then you’ve probably already heard of the Human Microbiome Project. In short, your body’s cells are outnumbered 100-to-1 by microorganisms living on and within your body. Recent preliminary results have shown that the types of microorganisms found can vary quite a bit from person to person, but that it varies even more wildly between different areas of the body.
In other words, the critters living in your stomach are quite a bit more different from those living on your head than they are from those living in your uncle’s stomach.
However, this is the first I’ve heard of a microbiome project for honeybees. And perhaps unsurprisingly, according to recently published results the bacteria colonies regularly found in hives vary quite a bit between regions, but not as much so between hives.
The research is part of the ongoing effort to get a complete picture of colony collapse syndrome – the epidemic that is wiping out honeybees the world over. Some recent research has pointed towards pesticides as the primary culprit, but there are still plenty of questions to be answered before any definite conclusions can be drawn.
Kirk Grubbs – a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin – thinks looking at a hive’s bacteria might be a way to add some more pieces to the puzzle. By keeping a good number of hives in his laboratory – the members of which are free to roam the campus thanks to exit tubes drilled through the walls – he has gathered baseline data about the microbial community in a typical, healthy hive. Similar to humans, the microbial communities vary from one part of the hive to another, depending on what’s going on in each location.
The next step will be to compare these results with the microbial communities of a hive suffering from colony collapse syndrome, or other diseases. If he can find fundamental differences, it could be that he might be able to devise an early warning system for bee keepers to look for in their colonies.
And it might just be that he can help find a way to a cure.