Integrated Human Practices
All images were taken by Team UAlberta with the consent of our interviewees.
UAlberta 2018 wanted to create a project centred on our community. We did this by choosing to address an issue which was brought to our attention by an individual in our community, and by keeping stakeholders and their input involved in all aspects of our project. This was primarily done through interviews, where we asked not only for their expertise on the issue of Nosema and the practice of beekeeping but also questions about how we could improve our project, to best suit them. These interviews and what we learned from them are collated in our documentary.
"By interviewing dozens of beekeepers, we were able to come to understand the full scope of their community. We designed a project that took into account what would work best for their lifestyles.".
For example, beekeepers expressed to us that they wanted a product that could be applied similarly to Fumagilin - a previous treatment for Nosema. As a result we developed our project in a way that would potentially allow us to feed our construct to bees, mimicking the application method for fumagillin.
Ultimately, Team UAlberta has created a project with a “community first” approach. This has lead to all aspects of our project being shaped by the connections we have built with members of the Alberta beekeeping community.
The Stats6 researchers contacted and worked with Hundreds of beekeepers contacted 12 beekeepers interviewed 3 beekeeping associations worked with The past producer of Fumagillin interviewed
How did we integrate what we learned?
At the beginning of the year team UAlberta knew that we wanted to work on a project that would be truly impactful in and outside of Alberta. Through our brain storming and preliminary research sessions, we realized that a project on bees would be the best way to do this. Our team was drawn to a project focused on bees; we are fearful of the negative impact that the loss of bees could have on people and the environment at large. More importantly, a project of this nature is was very applicable and meaningful in our direct community.
We decided we wanted to ensure that we were creating a project focused on two fronts: on the bees we were passionate about, and on our direct community that we wanted to impact and help. We got in contact with Elizabeth Goldie (Liz) of the Calgary Beekeeping Association and our project took off. After a lengthy phone call with Liz and multiple emails, she sent us an article by the Calgary Herald. This article explained how different fungi were killing bees. Not only was this bad for the beekeeping community, it was heavily affecting other industries that depend on bee pollination. Crops such as blueberries, almonds, and many more were affected. From here, we learned about Nosema - and the basis of our project was formed.
However, we did not stop there. Before finalizing this as our project, we set out to meet more beekeepers to see if this was truly an issue they were concerned about in the way Liz was. We attended a talk by Dr. Medhat Nassar at a Calgary Beekeeping Association meeting wherein he spoke about Nosema. It was apparent from this meeting the beekeepers we met there believed that finding a solution to Nosema was critically important. We had completed our first goal of finding a project that was really meaningful to both our team and the community.
From there it was our goal to ensure that beekeepers and other stakeholders were consulted with about every aspect of our project. We wanted to connect with beekeepers both commercial and hobbyists en mass. We knew that we needed to talk to those who worked with bees on a government level and take into account government regulations. We also recognized the need to speak with the people who once produced Fumagilin and wanted to get involved with beekeeping at a corporate level. We then wanted to take what we learned from each of these actors and apply it to our entire project, while also giving back to the community. All of this coalesced in the production of our documentary.
This section is broken up into beekeepers, researchers, beekeeping associations, and other stakeholders that we spoke with.
The primary stakeholder in this project is beekeepers. Through the process of the project we contacted hundreds of beekeepers through exchanged emails, phone calls and in-person interviews with 16 beekeepers. Although not all of the interviews are shown in the documentary, they all contributed to our project in some way.
Though the process of making our documentary and while trying to make our project as centered around the beekeeping community as possible, we asked questions which gave us insight only beekeepers could provide about bees. We asked what product would be best for them and about the effects of Nosema.
It was making the documentary that was the most rewarding experience in our attempt to produce the best possible research project . Beekeepers warmly welcomed us onto their factories, into their farms and spaces, into their homes and even to their families. Through our questioning we determined a few main goals. Firstly, we wanted to discover the ways in which our project would affect the community. Secondly, we wanted to find out how to improve our project meaningfully. It turned out that most of the time these two things went hand in hand. We approached our Integrated Human Practices in a questions, answer, and then application process.
Question: How has Nosema affected your operation? We asked this question because we wanted to gain a better understanding of how much of an impact Nosema could have on an operation, and determine whether or not our project was going to be impactful.
Quotes: “We’ve experienced crashing in the spring from bees that heavy Nosema Levels” - Curtis Miedema
Answer: Overwhelmingly beekeepers told us that Nosema has a very negative impact on their operations, because Nosema kills and as Curtis says, “less bees means less honey”. This means that a treatment for Nosema is desperately needed if beekeeping is to continue to flourish.
Application: This reassured us that our project was going to have an impact on our community because it is needed. This told us that we had accomplished out main goal for human practices as we were tackling a problem that was negatively affecting our community.
Question: How has the loss of fumagillin affected you and the beekeeping community? We wanted to ensure that beekeepers really wanted a new product, so that we could be assured our product would be useful.
Quotes: “ There is a lot of panic around what people are going to do. Getting your bees through the winter is pretty much the most important part of beekeeping in this area.” - Paul Greidanus
“It’s a little bit scary right now” - Randy Beaton.
Answer: When we spoke to those in the beekeeping community, they made it clear that the loss of fumagillin was a detriment to their industry. When speaking with beekeepers they said that there was panic, fear, and shock in their community, caused by the loss of fumagillin. The loss is threatening because it means that beekeepers are more likely to be affected by Nosema, and by extension lose hives. But beekeepers also established that fumagillin was far from perfect, and so an alternative was needed regardless of its existence.
Application: This made the importance of our project absolutely clear, as we had first-hand accounts of how detrimental Nosema could be, and the fear the loss of its only treatment was created.
Question: How will this affect organic certification? An important trend in the food industry is the production of GMO free and organic products. Once we were able to provide them full information regarding our project, we found it important to get the perspectives of beekeepers, particularly commercial bee ranchers. This was because such research would affect a beekeeper’s organic certification.
Answer: Through conversations with beekeepers we are confident that for the majority of beekeepers this will not be an issue. Beekeepers such as Paul Gredanious told us that in order to get organic certification for honey, your bees could not come in contact with anything non-organic. This means that organic beekeepers would not be able to use any Nosema treatments, feeds, or any form of additives on their bees. Moreover, the beekeepers had to ensure that their bees did not come in contact with GMO plants to the best of their ability. What this meant was that most honeybee ranchers already are not and cannot be organic certified because of the presence of GMOs in Alberta.
Application: Our project would not have a massive effect on a beekeeper’s ability to get organic certification. However, it can be inferred that our product may actually be preferable because in status quo, the fumagillin beekeepers are using is mutagenic to mammals  which is not preferable for their farms and their customers. Beekeepers also seemed to be responsive to the idea that we were building on something from nature and enhancing it to help the bees.
Question: Do you think the use of a GMOs will harm the consumers perception of your product? We thought it was important to ask this because we were trying to help beekeepers and improve their businesses not harm it. This means that the public perception of their product is important.
Answer: As they already had history of working with GMOs, beekeepers expressed to us that they were willing to continue doing so as the practice helped protect food security as well as their livelihoods. They did, however, ask that if we gave them a product that it would be thoroughly tested. They additionally requested that the product be sold with a very in-depth explanation of what is was, so that beekeepers could truly understand the product and use it with confidence.
Beekeepers were concerned that the construct would change the taste or appearance of the honey. This is because, as they explained to us, there is a ranking system for honey on the international level. Albertan honey is considered very high quality because of its mild taste and light colour. This is particularly popular in Japan, which is known for its high quality standards for food products.
Application: Each time meeting with beekeepers, we provided an explanation of our project and remained in contact with them through its duration. If we were to turn this project into a business and actually sell this product, we would take their ideas into consideration. We would do this by providing a detailed explanation of what we are doing. We would also continually test the product to address concerns of long term effects.
To address issues of the honey’s quality being reduced we attempted a biome experiment. This experiment was unsuccessful, so we asked researchers about how they thought our construct would affect the honey. They responded that they were sure that the construct would not change the colour of the honey.
Question: Do you mind that the product would be a GMO? We thought this would be an important question to ask as many people are not fans of GMOs often due to personal belief.
Quote: “Something that engineered or bred to actually reduce the problems of Nosema… its either that or we're not going to have any bees anymore.” - Randy Beaton
Answer: En masse beekeepers were not concerned about GMOs. Commercial beekeepers in particular understood that GMOs are an important part of food production, and that all crops are, to some extent, genetically modified.
Application: This means that our product would likely be well received.
Question: If we were to make this product what would be the best way to use it? We thought this question would be important to ask; if we were to make a product we wanted to be widely utilized.
Quote: “beekeeping industry has overcome a lot of adversity … beekeepers keep going, they are resilient, they work with that they have.” - Ursula Da Runga
Answer: Beekeepers suggested making a product similar to the way Fumagilin was used. This meant that our construct would need to be able to be fed to bees. This was also a common way to distribute Fumagilin.
Application: This suggestion from multiple beekeepers led to us using Bee. coli, as it was something that could be used by beekeepers in a feed form. It was also something that could live in a bee midgut.
Question: Knowing everything about our product do you think you would use it?
Quote: “As long as it works” - Paul Greidanus
Answer: Beekeepers told us that they liked and were excited about the project. They also told us that as long as it worked, they would use it as the is an immediate need for a solution.
Application: There has been overwhelming support for the project by those who we interviewed. This has lead to us knowing that our project will be well received and have a positive impact. This achieved our primary goal of helping the community.
We met with Ursula De Rugna, former CEO of Medivet. Medivet was a pharmaceutical company which produced Fumagilin, an antifungal treatment that was used for decades to treat Nosema. Recently, the production of Fumagilin was halted. Being the main source of income for Medivet, the company was force to go out of business. This loss of Fumagilin resulted in panic in the beekeeping community, and increased risk of Nosema infections.
“It’s not gonna be pretty” - Ursula De Rugna
Ursula is an important stakeholder to consider when discussing Nosema, because her product was responsible for the prevention of Nosema infections in Alberta. We felt that with her expertise she could give advice on how to improve our project. Ursula felt it was a good concept and encouraged us to look into Alberta regulations surrounding the production and application of this product. She also suggested that we explore patents; we have heeded both of her suggestions. Ursula also reassured us that a treatment for Nosema was integral for beekeepers. She also spoke about how amazing beekeepers are, and how important it is that we do this work because Nosema puts that all of that at risk. “Beekeepers are amazing people”
But Ursula also remained hopeful about the future of beekeeping the “beekeeping industry has overcome a lot of adversity… beekeepers keep going, they are resilient, they work with that they have.”
Alberta government researchers.
We were able to get in contact with Dr. Rassol Bahreini, an apiculture research scientist with the Government of Alberta who was able to advise us on our lab procedures in working with bees
Through our research we quickly learned that the Albertan beekeeping industry is the largest in Canada. Alberta’s honey is also world renowned, because of its light colour and mild taste.  A large part of the success of a the beekeeping community is their organizations. As Ursula put it, “beekeeping is the poor cousin of farming”. As a result, the beekeeping community depended on themselves and each other. They do this through various organizations that provide community and advocate for beekeepers. Thus, we got in contact with beekeeping associations. This provided us with the perspective of beekeepers as well as commercial perspectives. Team UAlberta also felt it was important to get in contact with these groups, learn from them, and receive their support.
We first got in contact with was the Calgary Beekeeping Association. This is how we met Elizabeth Goldie, who was instrumental in the idea generation of our project. She also said that personally, she and many others would be thankful for any solution to Nosema. The organization also got us into contact with dozens of beekeepers, provided information regularly about how to care for bees in our lab and in general, and gave us their support.
Next, we got in contact with the Alberta Beekeepers Association. This is a group that advocates for commercial beekeepers in Alberta. We met with a member of their board, Connie Phillips, who we bounced ideas off of about the finalization of our project. She helped us by providing solutions for real world implementation of this project, gave us contacts, and endorsed our project by providing financial aid. We are going to continue to build a relationship with this organization by presenting at 85th Annual Conference and Trade Show for the Alberta Beekeepers association, on November 5th.
Finally we spoke with members of the Canadian Honey Council.
Overall these groups were very helpful by providing contacts, and fielding questions about real world implication.
How we are giving back?
Human practices decided that we wanted to give back to the community that gave so much integral information in the development and formation of our project.
The first major way that we gave back to the community was through our documentary. The documentary allowed us to continuously speak to those who would be affected by our project, and learn about them. It was also important because it would shine light on a community that is largely ignored. Many in Alberta, and by extension the world, do not know how important beekeeping is in Alberta . By completing the documentary, putting it online, and by giving it to the Alberta Beekeepers Association we have allowed many people to become aware of Alberta beekeepers, hear their opinions, and learn of the issues that were affecting them. Beekeepers and the organization chose to support our documentary because they were excited by and saw the importance of these conversations,. They saw the platform we could provide them with to showcase their community and what they do.
We are also going to continue to give back to the community by presenting at the 85th Annual Conference and Trade Show for the Alberta Beekeepers association, on November 5th. Though this is happening after the Jamboree, it is a commitment that we have made because we value the community. We believe that our contributions should stretch outside of what may benefit us through the iGEM competition.
Finally, we provided testing for Nosema of the beekeepers that we interacted with. This was a thank you to the beekeepers allowing us to interview them, and a way to assess how much the beekeepers we spoke with were affected by Nosema.
This affected our project because it solidified our involvement with stakeholders and forced us to learn about their communities.
When considering ethics we wanted to make sure our research was premised on what we should do, not simply what we could do. The first major ethical consideration was what precautions we should take into account when designing our project, through the frame that it could actually be introduced into the environment. The second consideration was how to work with bees in a lab setting, as they are living creatures. We speak to many of our ethical considerations on the safety page.
Our ultimate goal was that our project could be used to improve the health and survival of bees. Achieving this goal requires introducing our creation into the environment, and therefore necessitates the consideration of what the wider impacts of our project on living animals and ecosystems might be. In addition to conducting experiments to ensure that neither porphyrin nor E. coli would be harmful to bees, we also had to think about the impact of E. coli and porphyrin beyond the bees we are trying to treat. Our construct was made in Bl21 DE3 E. coli. This is a lab strain, and therefore survives poorly in the wild, and would likely not be able to spread if we introduced it to the hive. Secondly, we had to consider the environmental persistence of porphyrin. Porphyrin is a light-sensitive molecule, and would degrade if it escaped into the environment, but it is able to persist in the dark space of the bee gut. The inability of porphyrin to persist in lit environments negates the need for a kill switch in our system: there is no need to limit porphyrin production to the bee gut, as the molecule will be degraded if produced in a light environment. An alternative approach would be to use our construct in a bioreactor to biosynthetically produce porphyrin. This approach avoids the environmental considerations involved in introducing E. coli into bee hives, and is therefore a valid ethical consideration in trying to minimize potential negative impacts of our project.
A large part of our ethical considerations this year involved deciding how to work with bees in a lab setting. We chose to work with live bees because it was the only plausible way to work with Nosema (we talk about this more on our safety page). When working with bees we made sure that we were working within iGEM guidelines. We also connected with experts to gain advice on how best to work with bees. We relied on the expertise of community members like Elizabeth Goldie, Dr. Rassol, and Courtney MacInnis. They answered questions that could not be answered by papers, and gave us ideas on how to care for the bees while we tested on them.
 J. P. van der Heever, Et al., “Fumagillin: An Overview of Recent Scientific Advances and Their Significance for Apiculture,” Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, vol.62, no.13, 2014. doi: 10.1021/jf4055374
 Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Livestock and Crops Division- Crop Research and Extension Branch- Pest Surveillance Section - https://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex2743