Fall 2017

Is Diet Linked to Disease?

A Tufts Ph.D. candidate is investigating a possible cause behind the alarming decline of bee populations.

By Genevieve Rajewski

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Rachael Bonoan, a Tufts Ph.D. candidate in biology, checks on her bees on the Grafton campus. Photo: Anna Miller

Rachael Bonoan, a Tufts Ph.D. candidate in biology, was unperturbed as she gently removed the top of a bee hive and filled it with smoke from a kettle. She nonchalantly began removing the frames inside to inspect each wax comb for signs of healthy reproduction: bee eggs, just-hatched larvae, and fuzzy young bees that have just chewed their way out of their cells. “It’s all about knowing the bees, really,” Bonoan said. “I didn’t get stung at all last year.”

Bonoan, AG18, is studying how populations of honey bees and other bees, responsible for pollinating a third of American crops, have declined at an alarming rate—half of all colonies have been wiped out since the 1950s. Possible causes include chemicals and pesticides, diseases caused by fungi, viruses and bacteria, stress from being trucked all over the country to pollinate crops, and—Bonoan’s special area of interest—nutritional deficiencies caused by pollinating large amounts of a single type of crop. To study how diet affects susceptibility to diseases, she is raising bees on different diets at Cummings School to see how they fare when introduced to health threats.

As Bonoan dictated her findings into her digital voice recorder, the hum of buzzing bees escalated and the bees swirled in a dark cloud around her. “I know,” she cooed to them. “You’re upset.” After one fond last look inside, she closed the hive. “If you told my child self that I could have a job playing with bugs, I never would have believed it,” she said.

Experience a 360-degree video of honey bees in a hive set up on Tufts’ Grafton
campus at bit.ly/2ytbru0.

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