Presenter: Priyadarshini Chakrabarti Basu, PhD, Oregon State University

The Importance of Sterols in Honey Bee Nutritional Physiology

United States being one of the largest centers of commercial bee keepers, honey bees ensure sustenance of the billion dollar industries of beekeeping and commercial crop production. Recent alarming honey bee colony losses due to multitude of factors such as pests and pathogens, poor nutrition and pesticides have affected both beekeepers and growers, especially as both are interdependent for their economic sustainability. Pollen forage and protein supplements provided by the beekeepers form the backbone of bee nutrition. In light of colony losses and reported adverse effects on bee health and pollination services, it is extremely crucial to understand the needs of optimum nutrition. Unlike others, insects are unable to synthesize sterols. Sterols form the key to honey bee growth and survival, as a number of bee life processes are dependent on the availability of optimum sterol concentrations in their diets. A lack of studies in understanding the needs for sterols in honey bee nutrition has called for an urgency in studying the critical roles sterols play in honey bee life cycle. An artificial diet was formulated and was supplemented with different concentrations of 24-methylenecholesterol in order to evaluate preferences for sterol content by honey bees in laboratory cage experiments. Our study suggests that honey bees preferentially consume diets rich in sterols compared to control diets and diets containing low concentrations of sterols. Bees fed sterol diets survived significantly longer than those fed control diets. Additionally, the total head protein content in bees from the high sterol treatment groups was significantly higher than in bees exposed to low or no sterol diets (control). Labeling the sterol diet with isotope also helped us quantify the isotope and trace the diet through the adult honey bee tissues. The results pertaining to honey bee abdominal fat contents and specific honey bee head proteins will also be discussed.


Priyadarshini Chakrabarti Basu, PhD,  is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher in Dr. Ramesh Sagili’s Honey Bee Lab at Oregon State University. Priya’s chief focus lies in improving honey bee health by understanding honey bee nutrition and deciphering the effects of pesticides on pollinators. At the Sagili Honey Bee Lab, she is currently studying the key nutrients essential for improving honey bee health. She employs various techniques of molecular ecology, neuroethology, insect physiology, ecotoxicology and apicultural practices to address her research questions. She earned her PhD from the Department. of Zoology and Centre for Pollination Studies at the University of Calcutta in India, where she studied the effects of pesticides on native wild Indian honey bees. She was the recipient of the prestigious Royal Society Newton International Fellowship. She also pursued research at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University, UK, being awarded the prominent Newton Bhaba PhD Placement Fellowship. She has published several peer reviewed scientific journals, books chapters and extension articles. Apart from mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, she also interacts at daylong seminars with schoolchildren to teach honey bee biology and spread environmental and pollinator awareness.