Honey bee

World Bee Day Profile: Dr. Priyadarshini Chakrabarti Basu

To celebrate World Bee Day, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is spotlighting NIFA-funded researcher Dr. Priyadarshini Chakrabarti Basu, who is an associate professor at the ‘Mississippi State University.

Tell us about your background and how your interest in agriculture developed.

The NIFA-funded researcher, Dr. Priyadarshini Chakrabarti Basu, is an associate professor at Mississippi State University. Image courtesy of Dr Basu.

My interest in agriculture was born when I started my baccalaureate. Even though I studied zoology, some particular subjects in entomology showed a strong relationship between insects and plants, especially food crops. The more I learned, the more fascinated I was. India has a long history of food scarcity and food abundance before and after the Green Revolution respectively. Connecting with local farmers, hearing their stories and listening to them was enlightening. Then, when I started studying bee pollinators, my interest in agriculture has since peaked when I realized that food production, crop protection and bee protection are all interconnected. Working with growers and beekeepers has helped me understand the dynamics of different aspects of agriculture.

My research focuses on understanding the impacts of multiple stressors on bee pollinators, particularly pesticides and poor nutrition, and what we can do to alleviate that stress. I work at the interface of fundamental and applied sciences. I use various interdisciplinary tools in fields such as insect physiology, beekeeping practices, pollination biology, molecular ecology, insect neuroethology, mass spectrometry and insect toxicology to answer the questions of research.

Could you tell us about one of your NIFA-funded projects? What is the objective of your project and what impact do you hope it will have on your institution and your trainees?

My lab is helping create the first-ever pollen nutrition database for all bee pollinators in North America through a NIFA-funded project in collaboration with Dr. Ramesh Sagili of Oregon State University. Bee habitat is usually chosen based on the relative attractiveness of plants to bees without an understanding of the nutritional quality of these plant pollens and nectars. Thanks to this project, we are now analyzing the nutritional quality of the different plants pollinated by bees (crops, non-crop, native and ornamental) and determining the contents of pollen proteins and lipids, amino acids, phytosterols and metabolites. We are partnering with various collaborators and citizen scientists from the United States and Canada to help collect the pollen to create this database. Even though this project is only three years long, it’s a lifetime commitment for me, and I see myself working to grow this database for years to come.

This project has been very well received within the institution and it also raises a lot of general awareness for the creation of optimal foraging habitats for pollinating bees. The project generated a lot of interest and support for our research program and the institution. Students learn valuable interdisciplinary techniques in beekeeping, insect physiology, mass spectrometry, and horticulture, while working with a wide variety of stakeholders. In addition to the pollen nutrition database, in this project we are also looking at the impacts of 24-methylenecholesterol, a vital micronutrient for bees, and the impacts of certain groups of fungicides on plants and bees. .

How has the specific programme/research funded by NIFA shaped your professional development as a scientist?

The NIFA-funded project has helped me expand partnerships in bee research. I have collaborated and worked with various partners at numerous USDA-Agricultural Research Services Research Centers, USDA Pollinator Group Program Managers and Research Coordinator, United States Geological Survey, Natural Resource Conservation Service and others. Thus, I now have the chance to work with motivated students, passionate citizen scientists and brilliant researchers. This project also supported my first graduate student in the new lab. Most importantly, this project allowed me to examine some very critical unanswered questions about bee nutrition, laying the groundwork for my long-term career goals and objectives.

What advice do you have for current students who might be interested in pursuing a similar career path?

My suggestion would be to focus on more than just the aspects of learning that students appreciate and cherish. Establishing yourself independently takes time and fantastic mentors to guide you. Being aware of what is required to follow this path (eg academic work at a university, or a scientist with the USDA, etc.) is the first important step in achieving desired career goals. We will all fail in many ways, but my advice would be to keep pushing forward and trying. Networking, relationship building, and pushing intellectual boundaries will help shape and sharpen students further. I’m a lifelong learner and I also encourage you to keep learning new things and honing your skills. Follow your passion and feed your scientific curiosity about all bees (managed and native), beekeeping and pollinators. It’s also important to be respectful and kind to everyone.

Would you like to add anything?

I really enjoy learning about bee pollinators. My favorite thing about my job is being able to find unanswered questions and keep trying to solve them. More importantly, I can do this with a fantastic group of students (graduate students and undergraduates) who are as engaged and motivated as I am. I also mentor and work with minority students, first generation students, and students representing the LGBTQ+ community. That in itself is a learning curve for me, and I take immense pleasure in being able to train, teach, and mentor students. Additionally, I have the opportunity to work closely with our stakeholders and extension partners, which gives me various opportunities to work on issues important to beekeepers and growers.

Top photo: NIFA-funded researcher Dr. Priyadarshini Chakrabarti Basu in the field examining honey bee hives. Image courtesy of Dr Basu.