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Research Fellowships

Development and Application of Methods for Assessing Immunocompetence in Bees

EPA Office of Research and Development

NSF Graduate Research Internship Opportunities for NSF Graduate Research Fellows

Current as of OCtober 2018

Opportunity Title:

Development and Application of Methods for Assessing Immunocompetence in Bees

Research Area:

Safer Chemicals

EPA Lab/Center/Office:

National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL)

Location:

Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

Duration:

4-12 months

Brief Summary:

Diminished immunity may be a central factor in bee population declines.  The goal of this project is to evaluate the effects of pesticide exposure on immunocompetence across species of bees. 

Opportunity Description:

Subject – Multiple environmental stressors impact the health of managed and native bees in the US and abroad. To satisfy EPA requirements, new pesticides are subject to a risk assessment process to identify potential adverse effects.  However, direct effects on immunity are not assessed as a part of this process because of an incomplete understanding of the relationship between pesticide exposure and susceptibility to disease. Furthermore, although there are more than 4,000 distinct species of bees in the US, the honey bee serves as the model organism for EPA-required risk assessment; findings in honey bees are extrapolated to all other species of bees. Little research has explored the validity of such extrapolation across bee species, particularly as it relates to immune system perturbation.  Given the pivotal role of the immune system in mediating the effects of environmental stressors on bee health, it is critically important to elucidate the effects of pesticide exposure on the immune system and to determine how these effects may vary across bee species.   

Scope – Even though there are pronounced differences in ecology and life history, the honey bee serves as the model organism for EPA-required risk assessment; findings in honey bees are extrapolated to all other species of bees.  Little research has explored the validity of such extrapolation across bee species, particularly as it relates to immune system perturbation.  Bees are protected from pathogens and parasites by an innate immune system and depending on social organization, some species of bees have evolved additional colony-level behaviors that also reduce disease transmission.  The intern will develop assays directed at known immune-relevant pathways and methods for assessing organismal-level responses in bees.  The intern will apply these methods to the design and execution of laboratory-based and field-level investigations of bee immunity in the context of different bee community social structures. 

Goals – The goals for the intern are to 1) create assays for assessing immunocompetence in bees, 2) contribute to the design and execute laboratory-based and field-level experiments to evaluate bee immunity, 3) gain experience interpreting scientific data and applying findings to future study designs and 4) report experimental findings at a scientific meeting.

Opportunities for Professional Development:

As part of this effort, the intern will work closely with an EPA project team and an interagency team (EPA and USDA) of scientists to develop experimental assay protocols and learn the essential skills to design scientifically defensible experiments.  In addition to developing high-level scientific acuity, the intern will establish a valuable network of professional partners, learn to combine multiple disciplines to accomplish a task and acquire the skills necessary to communicate with diverse audiences. 

Point of Contact or Mentor:

Lehmann.david@epa.gov

For more information about EPA Research Fellowship opportunities, visit: https://www.epa.gov/research-fellowships/graduate-research-internship-program-grip-opportunities-epa

Research Fellowships