Dozens of young honey bees swirled and buzzed through the air on the warm, late June day. The two undergraduates, though, weren’t sure how to proceed. Collecting bees for research purposes isn’t covered in most classes.

UNC Greensboro’s Sara Rubio Correa and Erin Estes, a Northern Michigan University student visiting UNCG for the summer Math-Bio Research Experience for Undergraduates program, asked Professor of Biology Olav Rueppell for help.

Rueppell, who runs UNCG’s Social Insect Lab, was happy to demonstrate.

He eschewed the beekeeper’s hood and other protective gear and seemed oblivious to the dozens of bees swirling around him. Young bees like this, it turns out, rarely sting.

Photo of researchers working at beeyard

Postdoctoral researchers Kaira Wagoner and Esmaeil Amiri work at UNCG’s beeyard.

Moving briskly, he collected several cups of bees for the two students to take back to the lab.

The bees were headed inside to be sedated and then studied – all part of PhD student Shilpi Bhatia’s research to better understand if some strains of honey bees are more virus-resistant than others.

The virus resistance project is one of several studies underway in Rueppell’s lab, where he and more than a dozen undergraduate and graduate students are working to better understand how honey bee genetics, behavior and health fit together.

Rueppell and his team are interested in fundamental biological problems, such as how genes influence behavior. Honey bees, which are social insects, had their genome fully sequenced more than 10 years ago, and so are a good organism for this kind of research. The insights gained can be translated to other organisms, from ants to human beings.

Additionally, Rueppell believes that by better understanding how genetics and the environment interact in honey bees, he and other researchers may be able to help beekeepers keep their hives healthier, and therefore help us all – honey bees are critical for our food supply.

Want to learn more about bee research at UNCG? Click here to read more.


This post was adapted from a UNCG Research Magazine story written by Mark Tosczak. Photography by Martin W. Kane.