Posted by: Through the Eyes of Women | May 21, 2012

May 21, 2010 HSU Alumna and MacArthur Genius Award Winner Marla Spivak Speaks with Host Corinne Frugoni About Her Research on Honeybees.


Beekeeping has long been a passion for Marla Spivak (’78, Biological Sciences).  Her ground-breaking research with bees has created plenty of buzz.

In 2010, Spivak, a professor of Entomology and head of The Bee Lab at the University of Minnesota, won a “genius award”—a $500,000, no-strings-attached grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The award recognizes her pioneering work in protecting honeybee populations from devastation the “colony collapse” that has made headlines in recent years.

One of Spivak’s most practical accomplishments is the breeding of the Minnesota Hygienic. It’s a strain of bees that uses olfaction to “sniff out” infected pupae and remove them from the hive before they can spread disease to the rest of the colony. In addition, Spivak is investigating the antimicrobial effects of bee-collecting plant resins.

But disease is likely just one of the problems plaguing these important pollinators, Spivak says.
It’s hard to tell what the main cause of colony decline is, but Spivak believes that there are a few factors.

“Bees are in decline for three interconnected reasons,” Spivak says. “There are not enough flowers out there that secrete pollen and nectar, so the bees are not getting proper nutrition. Then, the flowers that they do encounter often are contaminated with pesticides. It’s a combination of poor nutrition, pesticides and brood disease.”

Currently, Spivak is The Distinguished McKnight Professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota. She has translated her findings into accessible presentations, publications and workshops, becoming one of the leading beekeepers in the United States to establish local breeding programs that increase the frequency of hygienic traits in the general bee populations.

“I would like to establish a bee center here at the University of Minnesota,” Spivak says. “The public could come in and learn about bees. Bees are like a portal: When you start studying them you’re learning about many different topics such as agriculture, pesticides, landscape diversity and food safety.”

“I love bees. All beekeepers really love their bees. And seeing bees suffer is really difficult,” Spivak says. She says she hopes that her and her students’ research will help revive bee populations not only by developing practical applications to promote their health, but also by spreading awareness about their plight. “People hear that bees are dying, and most people want to know how they can help.”

One simple solution Spivak offers: Plant more flowers.


For more information on Professor Spivak’s work, see

For a video of Dr. Marla Spivak, click here


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