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Vincent A Ricigliano

Research Entomologist

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My research aims to improve honey bee health and productivity in the face of various interacting stressors such as climate change, malnutrition, and pathogens. We use a variety of different approaches to achieve this goal with two central foci:

1. Characterize the role of honey bee genetic variation in nutritional responses to regional forage landscapes and artificial diets

There are potentially thousands of genetic polymorphisms that may result in variations in nutritional biochemistry influencing honey bee health. Contrasts between different genetic stocks of honey bees may lead to the identification of metabolic and physiological phenotypes for breeding bees with improved nutrient efficiency and robustness in a changing global climate. Advances in our understanding of the roles of nutrients in gene and protein expression could also enable the development of genotype-specific nutritional supplements.

1. Develop efficacious and sustainable nutritional supplements to support colony growth and disease resistance.

Honey bee colonies managed for agricultural pollination are highly dependent on human inputs, especially for disease control and supplemental nutrition. Hives are routinely fed artificial “pollen substitute” diets to compensate for insufficient nutritional forage in the environment. Optimization of bee nutrition supplements can improve feed sustainability and agricultural pollination efficiency by supporting larger, healthier honey bee colonies.
We recently developed feed-based biotherapeutics that can improve individual bee health characteristics. Using bioengineering technologies, we generated microalgae strains that can stimulate the honey bee immune system, effectively functioning as an edible vaccine against pathogens associated with colony losses. Algae growth is highly scalable and can be done on non-arable land. Further, algae biomass production can soak up one ton of CO2 per hectare, making it a promising carbon-negative alternative to existing agrochemicals that are applied to bee hives. This approach is versatile in its applicability to improve resistance against current and emerging pathogens in managed bees.
My lab is also developing novel functional genomics tools to better understand the role of genetics in honey bee health and disease.