Honeybees are up against a lot of obstacles: bacterial and viral infections, parasitic mites and pesticides have all contributed to Colony Collapse Disorder, wiping out millions of bees across the globe. But they have a strong ally in entomologist Marla Spivak, and she's just been given the opportunity to continue her important honeybee research through a $500,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

Spivak, a distinguished McKnight Professor of Apiculture and Social Insects Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota St. Paul, was one of 23 recipients of the prestigious prize, announced on Sept. 27.

Spivak's research focuses on genetically influenced honeybee behaviors that could make entire colonies resistant to disease, and she has bred these traits into new strains of bees such as “Minnesota Hygienic” for the beekeeping industry. These bees are naturally less susceptible to troubling problems like the destructive Varroa mite, making chemical pesticides unnecessary.

“It was a complete surprise,” Spivak told the Pioneer Press newspaper. Like other recipients, she was given a bogus reason to be in her office at a certain time to ensure that she received the phone call announcing the good news.

"I'm very honored. I'm really humbled by this. The people I work with make me look very good. It's not really just about me."

The $500,000 — awarded in five annual installments — will likely go toward leveraging support for new bee research at the University of Minnesota and providing more assistance to beekeepers looking for better ways to protect their hives, said Spivak.

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Beekeeper nets 2010 MacArthur Foundation genius grant
Entomologist Marla Spivak, who studies bee biology, was among the 23 winners of this year's MacArthur Foundation grants.