Dissecting and mashing bee specimens to test for pesticides wasn’t always what Metro student Katherine Jerde wanted to do.
Jerde started as a freshman at Metro in 2000 as a psychology major, but changed majors various times until she found one that felt right. An introduction to biology class for non-majors, taught by John Krinetsky, sparked her interest in the science. Also having a passion for the earth and environment, she complemented her major with an emphasis in botany and a minor in chemistry.
“It seems like a cool thing for someone like me to do,” Jerde said. “I’ve always been passionate about the environment, and it seems like a good way to actually pursue something that I felt passionate about.”
With the guidance of Robert Hancock, the entomologist in the biology department, Jerde and other students were able to create a student research project called Honeybee Energetics.
The project began last summer when Jerde started networking with beekeeper associations and people in the beekeeping community in order to collect bees during the summer. The bees were saved in alcohol in the fall, and various analyses were conducted in the spring.
Marygael Meister, the founder of Denverbees, brought the idea for the project. Recently, beekeeping was legalized in Denver. Meister went to Hancock with the idea stemming from Colony Collapse Disorder; in the past 10 to 20 years honeybees have been dying off, and nobody knows why. Without honeybees, there will be no species to pollinate fruit, which is a concern of many beekeepers.
Hancock knew Jerde from their research project in spring 2009, and Jerde took his entomology class in the fall. He said she was dedicated and contributed a lot to the project; she set up the data collecting system, which would look at the location of the hive, the strain of bee and any treatment the bee was given during the growing season.
“She is also very, very good at approaching people and establishing relationships,” Hancock said. “She spent a lot of time talking with and developing relationships with various beekeepers in the areas so that she could go back periodically and sample bees right from their hives.”
So far, Jerde has done three experiments on the bees. The first was pollen identification, which involved pulling the pollen off the bees and analyzing it under a microscope and indentifying it with the help of Bill Baxendale, who is also associated with the project.
The second procedure involved dissecting the trachea of the bees in order to find Varroa mites, which could weaken their immune system and cause Colony Collapse Disorder; they did not find any.
Currently, they are doing pesticide residue detection.
“We’ll kind of shake the bees up, and we’ll slice them and dice them and blenderize them, and we’ll extract any pesticide residues that might be present,” Jerde said.
Jerde wants to persue The Honeybee Energetics Project after graduation in May since she has been involved with the project since its inception.
“Eventually we hope for a couple major publications in a scientist’s journal,” Jerde said. “It’s critical, too, knowing that you are contributing to the scientific community.”
Currently, Jerde has a job as a mosquito technician looking for a cause ofthe West Nile virus. Over the summer she will be doing seasonal field biology and wants to do applied botany where she gets to go out in the field.
Hancock said her contributions to the honeybee project are the things that will make her stand out as a biologist.
“She’s going to be the kind of biologist that can take it to the street and that is really, really important, and that’s pretty rare,” he said. “There are a lot of people that go into science that kind of shy away from the spotlight and maybe aren’t necessarily the best verbal communicators, but Kat clearly has those things.”