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April 18, 2014

Some research creates a real buzz.

Such is the case with Charnel Byrnes, ’14, and her mentor, Dr. Jonathan Roling of the biology department. The pair has been working for three years on a project involving honeybees. Honeybees play a crucial role in pollinating food and crops and it was estimated that half the honeybee hives in Massachusetts did not survive the winter of 2012-2013. Pesticide use is one of the probable causes for Colony Collapse Disorder, a poorly understood phenomenon of increasing occurrence when honeybees abandon their queen and their hive.

Ms. Byrnes’ research investigates the toxicity of a neonicotinoid pesticide called imidacloprid on the honeybee nervous system. Recently, she has found a down-regulation in the expression of neurotransmitter-associated genes.

“Our purpose is to identify the dangers of neonicotinoids and perhaps help shape legislative decisions for agriculture and residential use,” said Dr. Roling. 

Ms. Byrnes’ research interest was sparked when she participated in the Student Retention Enhancement Across Mathematics and Science (STREAMS) Summer Bridge Program in 2010. STREAMS is a three-week, residential program focused on providing research opportunities for incoming freshmen science majors. 

Her research was funded by a 2013 Adrian Tinsley Summer Research Grant.  This allowed her to spend up to 50 hours a week testing the pesticide and analyzing her results. 

Ms. Byrnes explained how she began this unique project:

“Dr. Roling said I could take any route I wanted, pesticides seemed the most interesting, and I could overcome my fear of bees,” she said. 

Dr. Roling was pleased to participate and guide Ms. Byrnes in her research. 

“I was excited when she asked me to help her and it’s great when students are interested in pursuing a research project on their own,” he said. 

Ms. Byrnes recently presented her findings at The Society of Toxicology Conference in Arizona. She credits her experience with undergraduate research for her recent acceptance to a PhD program at University of Georgia. (Story by student Caitlin Seddon, Universtiy News)