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Bumblebees Turn NCBiotech Into Research Center

Earlier this summer the North Carolina Biotechnology Center campus was buzzing – with bees.

NCBiotech supports life science research across the state. But it normally doesn’t actually participate in research studies from its Research Triangle Park headquarters or from its five regional offices across the state.

This time, though, the Center became a “lab,” welcoming five bumblebee hives to the edge of its visitors’ parking lot, about a half mile from the bees’ home at the Bayer Bee Care Center.

Bayer arranged with NCBiotech to bring the Bombus impatiens hives onto its campus for a new project researching the powerful pollinators’ migratory behavior. Bombus impatiens is the most commonly found native bumblebee species, especially throughout the eastern U.S.

In an interview, Ana Cabrera, Ph.D., Bayer’s lead environmental specialist on the project, discussed the lack of behavioral research on bumblebees.

“We would like to find the ideal distance to prevent bumblebees from crossing into other hives,” she explained. “This can help establish a baseline for future studies.” There is ample research done on honeybees, but bumblebees often get swept under the rug. But in this project Bayer is looking at how bumblebees drift between colonies so it can use this information to incorporate bumblebees into risk assessment for new products.

The project included a tagging process for the bees. As they ventured from hive to hive, every two weeks the researchers would suit up and count the number of bees in each hive that had wandered in from a different colony. The researchers tagged each bee with a tiny paint spot. Different colors represented their hive of origin.

“We saw a lot of drift between colonies,” said Cabrera, “but it is hard to tell just counting on-site because there are bees in the hive that you might not be able to see.” The scientists didn’t find the true results until several weeks later when they opened the hives.

NCBiotech employees were excited to welcome the fuzzy friends to their campus, and the proximity to Bayer made the partnership a perfect match for the start of a larger study the company is conducting.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Author Mindy Chu (left) is a North Carolina State University student working at Bayer as a summer intern in corporate communications).

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