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Full Stream Name: Microorganisms in Bees and Other Insects

Research Educator: Jo-anne Holley

Principal Investigator: Nancy Moran

Credit Options: Spring & Fall

Why study the microorganisms living in insects?

Symbiotic microorganisms have major effects on their host nutrition and susceptibility to disease and toxins. In this stream, students explore the gut microbiota and pathogens of insects to understand how they affect the health and function of their hosts. An emphasis is be placed on ecologically important insects such as honey bees and other pollinators. These are of current interest due to their roles in agricultural and natural systems and to their widespread population declines. We focus on local Texan bees and wasps because they are abundant and biologically diverse. Different species can have different diets, social structure, and nesting habitats. All these can influence the microbes they associate with, as well as many other ecological factors.

Insects are Diverse!

There are over a million known insects 150,000 described species of bees and wasps, and many more that are unstudied. This stream centers on the bees and wasps because they are important ecologically and economically. Bees and wasps can be are solitary or live in groups; many feed on other insects and spiders, while others are herbivores and feed on nectar and pollen. These factors can influence the composition of their microbiomes and their exposure to pathogens.

Research questions

What microorganisms live in insects? What do they do?

First we find out which organisms live in the bee/wasp guts. The next step is to work out whether they help or harm their host and how.

How does host biology influence the microorganisms?

The biology of the host varies a lot, so we want to know if the internal organisms are adapted to their host biology, or if different conditions changes their communities.

How do the microorganisms interact with each other?

Bacteria of different species can compete or complement each other to help their host.

Stream location: Painter 2.03

We also have dedicated lab space at the Brackenridge Field Lab, located off campus on Lake Austin Blvd. Students can use this field station to collect from native insect populations to bring back to the Painter molecular lab. 

Here is the website: https://www.bfl.utexas.edu/


The research for the stream is conducted in a molecular lab located the Brackenridge Field Laboratory (BFL), about 20 minutes away from the main campus.

This is a UT field station located near downtown Austin along the Colorado River. The lab is on 82 acres of natural habitat so we can collect from local insects populations as well as keep bee and wasp colonies easily on site.

Students in this stream set aside one or two large blocks of time for research and travel so they can meet the expected 6 hours of research. Two bus lines (18 and 22) and a UT shuttle (663) travel to the lab frequently.

Research Overview

The Bugs in Bugs Stream is broadly interdisciplinary and develops skills relevant for a variety of careers in science. It is well suited for students interested in ecology, evolution, natural history, medicine, molecular biology, microbiology, and nutrition. Most research occurs in the lab using molecular and microbiological techniques, but students can undertake research based out doors working and collecting live insects specimens. Students can choose among projects related to their interests such as on the microbe abundance, diversity, and genomics, or insect diversity and behavior.

We encourage students to:

-       be inquisitive and develop their own hypotheses

-       work with each other to answer complex questions

-       to make their data and other tools available to other researchers



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Biology, Environmental Science