This story was originally covered by PRI's Living on Earth.
Bees may be the scourge of family picnics, but they are essential to the United States' food supply. Counting only fruits and vegetables, they pollinate around a third of the food we eat. They're also essential to the alfalfa that the country needs for dairy and meat industries.
Professor Martha Spivak of the University of Minnesota is working hard to keep bees healthy. Her work includes cultivating bees' resistance against parasites and diseases on both an individual and community level.
In the past few years, a mysterious ailment has killed huge swaths of honey bees, giving Spivak's work a heightened importance. The cause of this so-called "colony collapse disorder" remains unknown. Spivak hopes to spark collaboration on many levels, helping bees through both technical improvements and changes to beekeeping culture. The fate of the bees may depend on it.
As people begin to realize the danger posed by the "colony collapse disorder," Spivak's work has begun to gain wider recognition. She recently won $500,000 from the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation in what is sometimes called a "genius grant." Throughout the process, however, Spivak has remained humble. When she first heard that she had been selected for the award, she said: "I didn't really believe they had the right person."
You can watch a video about Spivak and her work below:
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