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Experimental Projects & Goals

Doctoral candidates

Christina Burden: In order to survive, animals must be able to interact successfully with a dynamic environment. Learning and remembering the behavioral responses that previously helped them to overcome the challenges they face is an important component of this interaction. Honey bees are a species that are faced with numerous challenges in their quest to find food and maintain a healthy colony. Exposure to sub-lethal levels of toxic chemicals, which are contaminating the bees’ environment, may impair the bees’ ability to perform their many duties effectively by disrupting learning and memory. Ultimately this impairment reduces colony health and survival. My current research focuses on the effect of sub-lethal exposure to two classes of environmental toxins, metalloids and heavy metals, on learning and memory in honey bees.

Jonathan Bobek: I am interested in studying the genetic and epigenetic underpinnings which affect the life of an organism. I am currently investigating candidate genes which may have a role in the transition of nurse to forager behavior of honeybees, questioning if early-age stress has a role of onset of foraging. Through ASU's honeybee facility I raised a single cohort colony (SCC), exposing newly-emerged adult bees with various stressors and observing behavior within a flight cage. I flash froze bees on the onset of foraging behavior, as well as same-aged nurses in liquid nitrogen. I later extracted RNA from whole brains and abdominal fat bodies. In addition to studying gene expression through PCR, I am also extracting DNA and using bisulfide conversion to investigate whether these gene loci have changes of methylation between behavioral groups. I will be running an additional SCC study to investigate the effects of aging on candidate gene expression/epigenetics and foraging performance.

Abigail Finkelstein: Most of us have heard the phrase “learning how to learn” often throughout school and as we acquire new skills. How is it that the brain can change its own ability to learn? My dissertation focuses on the ways in which learning and social interactions shape perception. Honeybees are known for complex social behaviors and variable learning ability, providing an exciting system in which to study the mechanisms of perceptual change. Through experiments in which newly emerged honey bees were raised in environments offering different punishing and rewarding learning opportunities, I gathered preliminary data suggesting that early learning experiences reduce later sensitivity to the unconditioned stimuli of sucrose and electric shock. Currently, I am working on quantifying the impact of appetitive reward learning on downstream responsiveness and learning, as well as on hormonal and biogenic amine signaling. Undergraduate team: *Jake Seemann (ASU 4th year) is conducting an honors thesis project on the effects of the appetitive conditioning paradigm on honey bees’ stress levels, sucrose sensitivity, and future learning ability. * Achal Patel (ASU 1st year) is assisting with the behavioral conditioning and testing. * Zamzam Hashi (ASU 2nd year) is studying the dynamics of trophallaxis (food exchange) interactions within groups of bees in punishing and rewarding foraging contexts.

Gyan Harwood: I study the evolution of social behavior in honey bees and other insects. In particular, I am interested in the genetic, physiological, and regulatory mechanisms that make possible the development of complex social behaviors from more simple, solitary behaviors. My research focuses on transcription factors in the genome and the role they play in either directly affecting individuals’ behaviors or in regulating the expression of other important genes in the organism. My aim is not only to understand the molecular regulation of the division of labor in honey bees, but also to look for similarities and differences in behavioral regulation in other social and non-social species.

Graduate researcher

Eugen Pohoata: I am interested in researching honey bee immunity; it’s cellular activity, chemical responses, mechanisms and detailed response pathways. My current projects focus on questions from neurological toxicity of certain compounds (collaboration with Christina Burden), to analyzing the function of crucial proteins like vitellogenin. My skills include microscopy, cellular study, organic chemistry and I have a drive to learn and accomplish. During my time in Gro’s lab, I hope to use these skills to understand how my findings relate to broader questions across species and environments.

Program managers

Osman Kaftanoglu: I received my Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in 1983 and joined the faculty at the Cukurova University in Adana, Turkey. Afterwards I became a full Professor in 1994, Chair of the Animal Science Department in 2002 and the Director of the Kozan Vocational College in 2003. I received the Student Award given by the Eastern Apicultural Society in the USA in 1981, Young Scientist (Incentive) award from the Turkish Scientific and Technical Research Council (TUBITAK) in 1983, and Honorary Professorship by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Apiculture Research Institute, Beijing China in 2000. I joined the honey bee research team at ASU in 2005 with my main research interests being in honey bee reproduction physiology, honey bee sperm biology, bumblebee breeding and pollination. I am currently the Project Manager at the Honey Bee Research Lab, ASU Polytechnic campus.

Gro Amdam Lab bees on a watch