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Experimental Projects & Goals

Research Scientists

Dalial Freitak: How do organisms adapt to the changes in the environment? This has been the question, which inspired me to become a scientist. Parasites and pathogens are among most dangerous factors affecting the fitness and survival of any individual. My research focus has been mainly on how organisms cope with different parasite pressures and which physiological and behavioural countermeasures they take in order to survive the infections.

Trans-generational immune priming in insects has been in the center of my interest for last decade. In order to understand the mechanisms of immune priming I have used various model organisms, but recently mainly honey bees. I have shown that honey bees use pieces of digested bacteria as immune elicitors and transfer these from one generation to another. This discovery has allowed us to create a concept for honey bee vaccination. In collaboration with Helsinki University I am currently in the process of developing first ever insect vaccine. In addition, my projects include understanding the physiology of the resistant phenotype, the specificity of the immune priming, effect of nutrition on the immunity, seasonality of immune defenses and self-medication behavior in social insects.

Daniel Münch: Why do some individuals age fast, while others become much older and still show no symptoms of senescence? I study social and nutritional influences on aging in order to understand how such differences between individuals emerge, and hence how aging may be slowed.

My research in the honey bee model underlines that extreme differences in brain aging can predictably emerge as a function of different social behaviors, in particular the care for offspring. My work combines behavioral, high-resolution microscopic and molecular techniques to study root causes of brain aging. On the behavioral level, the manipulation of social context (demography) and social behaviors has proven to be an efficient tool to slow or accelerate aging. We show that the uniquely plastic brain aging in bees is linked to a progressive dysfunction in complex behaviors, including learning, as well as to changes in neuronal signaling proteins, metabolic enzymes and in lipofuscin, a most common symptom of cellular senescence also in humans.

For my other recent research activities, including the life-prolonging effects of vitellogenin, and dietary interventions to slow aging, please see the Norwegian lab’s main page.

Graduate Students

Erik Rasmussen: I am interested in the epigenetics of the honey bee and how it affects the beesí behavioral plasticity. My project focuses on demethylation of the honey bee methylome by characterizing the distribution and generation of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmc). This molecule is believed to be important in DNA demethylation, which the bees undergo when they change their social behavior. Another part of the project investigates how micronutrients can affect the epigenome and aging of the bees. The project is a collaboration with the Centre for Molecular Biology and Neuroscience at the Oslo University Hospital.

Eva Hystad: I study factors that contribute to variation in aging. So far, we have resolved that variation in brain mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) integrity does not explain cognitive differences in old age. General differences in learning ability between honey bees, however, may be associated with different abilities to regulate mitochondrial activity. This may be a central feature of brain metabolic biology. Furthermore, I asked how social task and aging variation correlate with changes in innate immunity. We test how bees with different social behavior show differed in immune pathway activation, for example in expression of the anti-microbial peptide genes Hymenoptaecin and Defensin-2 that are downstream effectors of the Immune Deficiency (IMD) and TOLL pathway.

Now, I study connections between behavior, aging progression and immune cell function.

Jane Ludvigsen (collaborative PhD student with Prof. Knut Rudi): I study the spread and persistence of antibiotic resistance genes within the gut using honey bees as a model. This is a good model for gut microbial studies because the honey bee is numerous, social, easy to manipulate and has a relatively simple microbiota compared to humans. In America, honey bees are managed and treated with antibiotics if they develop infections. The active antibiotic compound is tetracycline and this treatment has resulted in massive resistance towards tetracycline within the honey bee gut microbiota. In Norway, tetracycline is not used to treat infections, which then results in a difference in abundance of tetracycline resistance in the gut microbiota between Norwegian and American honey bees. I would like to find out which bacteria is antibiotic resistant as well as if antibiotic resistant genes are transferable between different bacterial species in the gut in vitro and in vivo. It will also be interesting to see if there is any factors/bacterial properties contributing to uptake of antibiotic resistance genes that are geographically distributed or enhanced by selection pressure resulting from antibiotic use. I have started studying, by using genome sequencing, the presence and distribution of different tetracycline genes in two honey bee symbionts; Gilliamella apicola and Snodgrassella alvi from Arizona and Norway.

Research Technicians

Claus Kreibich: I am the group's bee-technician. I take care of all the practical beekeeping needs, everything from hive maintenance, hands-on beekeeping operations to experiment planning and setup. My goal is to take care of and maintain the functions of the bees and hives while carrying out experiments. Together with our team's researchers, PhDs and graduate students I help out with experiments in the lab, such as behavioral assays/tests and the general handling of bees while also taking care of certain administration tasks.

bees on a flower