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USDA Agency to Honor Bee Researcher / February 12, 2003 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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National news release

USDA Agency to Honor Bee Researcher

By Jan Suszkiw
February 12, 2003

BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 12—Molecular geneticist Jay D. Evans’ studies of genes that influence honey bee development, pest resistance, and other traits have led to his being named an “Outstanding Early Career Scientist of 2002" by the Agricultural Research Service, the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

ARS will honor Evans and other award-winning scientists today at a ceremony at the agency’s Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center here. Evans will receive a plaque and cash award from ARS Acting Administrator Edward B. Knipling. ARS’ “early career” awards recognize the achievements of scientists who have been with the agency for seven years or less, and earned their highest academic degree within the past 10 years.

Evans joined ARS’ Bee Research Laboratory at Beltsville in September 1998, and promptly assembled a state-of-the-art molecular research facility to study his subject, Apis mellifera, whose crop pollination activity is considered a $14 billion asset to U.S. agriculture.

Within his first three years at the ARS lab, Evans authored or co-authored 12 manuscripts, including a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that examined the interplay of the hive environment and genes in determining whether honey bee larvae become queens or workers.

Evans’ genomics research also extends to honey bee parasites, insect pests, and pathogens.

Using an approach called molecular phylogenetics, for example, Evans and colleagues established South Africa as the original source of U.S. introductions of the small hive beetle, a pest that infiltrates bee hives to feed on pollen and honey. His development of “genetic markers”–specific regions of beetle DNA that distinguish it from other insects–has given federal and state regulatory agencies an important surveying tool for tracking the pest’s U.S. migration.

Evans also devised new DNA sequencing techniques to identify markers tied to antibiotic resistance in the bacterium Paenibaccillus larvae, which causes American foulbrood disease. Use of such markers suggests the bee pathogen’s antibiotic resistance didn’t happen at one geographic location, but independently at different apiaries across the country.

Evans’ lab also is finishing up work to sequence DNA in the mitochondria, or cellular “power plants,” of Varroa mites, parasites that feed on honey bee blood. One aim is to study genetic variation in the DNA so that the Varroa’s taxonomic status can be clarified. Another goal is to develop genetic markers that could be used to track the Varroa’s migration patterns, check for re-introductions of the parasite, or screen mite populations for pesticide resistance.

Evans is a member of the Entomological Society of America, the International Union for the Study of Social Insects, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Society for the Study of Evolution. He also has served on numerous scientific committees, including the Insect Genomics Planning Session, and the Honey Bee Genome Project Consortium. For the latter, he helped conceive and write “White Paper for a Honey Bee Genome Project,” a consortium proposal that’s been accepted by the National Human Genome Research Institute. There, in the next month or two, scientists are expected to finish sequencing the entire honey bee genome, an estimated 16,000 genes.

Evans earned a B.A. degree in biology at Princeton University in 1988, and his Ph.D. in biology at the University of Utah in 1995. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Georgia’s Department of Entomology from 1996 to 1997, and a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Arizona for about nine months before joining ARS in 1998.

Evans, a native of Seattle, Wash., resides in Greenbelt, Md., with his wife, Francisca, and their two children.

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Last Modified: 2/11/2003