Help Erika Bueno Fund Her Graduate Project!

Image of Apocephalus borealis, coutesy of Core et. al 2012

Image of Apocephalus borealis, coutesy of Core et. al 2012

Finding funding for some research projects is incredibly difficult, especially for newer researchers. For phenomena which have only been recently described, finding funding is even more difficult than finding funding for more established research areas. Because of this, there are a lot of labs which rely on citizen science projects or volunteer work to gather data. You have a chance to help a really cool and interesting project that can help us understand a new problem that honeybees are facing – through crowdfunding.

In 2012, a team of researchers led by Andrew Core discovered that a parasitoid fly, Apocephalus borealis, which normally attacks native bees, was shifting hosts to Apis mellifera. Many of the parasitized bees were found around lights at night, which is a stark contrast to the normal day-flying behavior of the bees. They hypothesized that many of these parasitized bees were likely abandoning their colonies, which is a common occurrence with sick bees.

Pesticides and pathogens can change social roles of bees in one of two ways. First, they can change the roles of the bees within the colony. Second, they can cause complete abandonment of social roles. It is not always clear whether these responses are entirely detrimental to the parasite, as they may allow new colonies to be infected through a phenomena known as ‘worker drift’.

Erika’s project, as it relates to Apocephalus, is to observe the behavior of parasitized bees to get a better handle on whether Apocephalus indeed causes hive abandonment. This means observing bees to determine whether they’re abandoning their social roles, and determining what the timeline of this abandonment is.

The second part of the project, the more expensive part, revolves around looking at how gene transcription changes in response to Apocephalus infection. Specifically, she’s interested in determining whether there are changes in the production of genes which tell the bee whether it’s night or day.

It’s an interesting project, and is sure to shed some light on honeybee behavior. Unfortunately, this sort of data can’t be generated without funds. The Apocephalus/Apis system is not as well established as, say, the Varroa/Apis system. Furthermore, the Varroa/Apis relationship probably has a larger impact on overall honeybee health. This means that funds are more available for these than for other systems.

This is where crowdfunding comes in. This is a relatively new idea, and this article from Thompson-Reuters gets more into the concept and the pros and cons of the approach.  Ultimately, there are plenty of struggling programs which study some things which are potentially important. Erika’s program is one such example, and her lab has begun to embark on this grand experiment in science funding.

If you want to help support this important experiment, you can donate to Erika’s project through Experiment.com. As of the time of this writing, there are 10 days left to donate!

Joe Ballenger is an entomologist working on biocontrol somewhere in the Southern US. He spends most of his spare time breeding tarantulas, and he has a thing for parasitoid wasps as well. He's an excellent cook, and knows how to make an excellent Old-Fashioned. One day far in the future, Joe hopes to be able to study insect physiology and figure out how to make safer and better pesticides.

Posted in Science
6 comments on “Help Erika Bueno Fund Her Graduate Project!
  1. James Cooper says:

    What university? Who’s her adviser? Does he/she agree with this funding approach? Why doesn’t the adviser fund this project? How would a journal view a paper on a crowdfunded project which has not received any preliminary funding review? This doesn’t seem to me to be an advisable approach. How can funders evaluate the proposed work? If this work is worth doing, then $3500 is hardly sufficient to fund it.

    • If you visit the link Experiment.com to see her request for funding, it says she’s at San Francisco State. I didn’t see her advisor listed. The scope of work is reasonable for what they want to do. If I had to guess, I’d say their stipends and labs are paid by another program so all they need are materials. I was in this sort if situation a few times in grad school – where I could have done more experiments if I just had a few thousand for materials.

      I think it’s reasonable to expect that crowd funded work could be published, provided that it meets the appropriate standards for papers. A lot of journals don’t even post funding source. Companies aren’t required to do preliminary finding review, nor are non profits. I think crowd funding is going to become more popular and the resulting papers should be judged on the science, not how they were funded.

  2. Erika Bueno says:

    James, we are from San Francisco State University and our advisor is Dr. Chris Moffatt, who is also new to this system as he has previously and currently works with the effects of starvation on neurogenesis and endocrinology in crickets. He is very supportive of this and is in agreement with our experimental approach. He is also aware of the difficulties in finding funding for this type of study.

    I agree with Anastasia, at the end of the day it’s the science that will be ultimately judged rather than the funding source. I think crowdfunding is becoming a popular venue for scientists to reach out to the public. What I most enjoy about crowdfunding campaigns is that you get to communicate with people who support your research and share similar ideas and passions. They may not be able to directly participate in the research but they allow the research they care about to happen.

  3. eribue says:

    James, we are from San Francisco State University and our advisor is Dr. Chris Moffatt, who is also new to this system as he has previously and currently works with the effects of starvation on neurogenesis and endocrinology in crickets. He is very supportive of this and is in agreement with our experimental approach. He is also aware of the difficulties in finding funding for this type of study.

    I agree with Anastasia, at the end of the day it’s the science that will be ultimately judged rather than the funding source. I think crowdfunding is becoming a popular venue for scientists to reach out to the public. What I most enjoy about crowdfunding campaigns is that you get to communicate with people who support your research and share similar ideas and passions. They may not be able to directly participate in the research but they allow the research they care about to happen.

  4. One thing which is important to mention is that crowdfunded research is already being published, and I think it’s a good idea to discuss what that means. I wanted to start a conversation about crowdfunding on BFI, and I thought Erika’s project was an example of what’s being done right with the approach.

    The group studying Apocephalus has already published at least one paper on the biology of this parasitoid, and they’re gathering data about range from a citizen science project. I’ve criticized them for overselling some of the results in their first paper, but they really are doing a lot of things right. They’re publishing results, they’re engaging the public, and I think their goals are pretty clear without being predetermined.

    Erika’s project didn’t oversell the effects of the parasitoid (e.g. this animal is The One True Cause of CCD), the hypothesis she’s testing is reasonable in light of how the animal was discovered and the biology of it’s host (discussed above), and the scope of the project is pretty reasonable for where they are.

    I think it would help to contrast it with a project which wasn’t very well done. Abbie Smith of ERV highlighted a crowdfunding effort called Project Immunity which promised a HIV vaccine.

    They were in a group which hasn’t published any papers on the subject, they didn’t have a basic understanding of the field, they didn’t have a clear hypothesis, so on and so forth. They did some cell culture work, which was publishable but was a far cry from what they promised in their initial goal.

    Smith does a very good breakdown of the poorly performed project here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2014/01/27/immunity-project-crowdsourcing-an-hiv-vaccine/

    She discusses their results here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2014/07/21/immunity-project-preliminary-at-best-results/

  5. eribue says:

    Thanks Joe, for not only helping us spread the word but for recognizing our attempt to gain support for our research.

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