A Scientist’s Aim: Save The Bees

By Josephine Marcotty
Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

MINNEAPOLIS

Marla Spivak sat on the curb outside an emergency room in Arizona nearly four decades ago holding a jar with a lone honeybee buzzing around inside.

She was 22, and on her way to a summer job with a renowned bee researcher.

She had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, only that she desperately wanted to understand those mysterious creatures who were somehow better than people at making a society.

But a year earlier she had almost died after being repeatedly stung.

So with a friend at her side to call for help if she needed it, and the doors of the emergency room at her back, she pressed the bee to her arm to find out if she was, as she feared, fatally allergic to its sting.

It was one of many times in her life that Spivak would rely on her fierce, or foolish, courage to propel her along a slightly eccentric path to becoming one of the country’s leading champions for bees.

She’s now 59, a nationally known University of Minnesota professor of entomology and a 2010 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, a genius grant.

She bred a line of bees that can heal sick hives, discovered that bees collect tree resin to self-medicate, and launched a team of experts known as the Bee Squad to help other Minnesotans succeed with hives of their own.

Now she is close to achieving her holy grail, a new $6 million lab to study the insects that are crucial to a third of the nation’s food supply.

Her mission, though, has changed considerably since she contemplated her fate inside that glass jar. She is still entranced by bees, more than ever. Now she wants to save them.

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