COVINGTON, Ga. - A solution to Colony Collapse Disorder, which is wiping out tons of honeybee colonies around the world, may be right around the corner thanks to research conducted by Dos Harper, a senior at Eastside High School and the NCCA STEM Institute. Colony Collapse Disorder occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. Harper’s two-year research project on the subject recently earned praise from the National FFA Organization, which named him a national finalist in the 2017 Agricultural Proficiency Awards in the Agriscience Research-Animal Systems category. Harper is one of only four students chosen to compete for this award at the national finals to be held this October at the 90th National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis.
“I couldn’t believe I was named a national finalist,” said Harper. “It’s been a lot of hard work and dedication and it’s just really great to see it pay off. It was a very relieving feeling because I’ve been waiting for the results for a very long time.”
Harper learned in April that his project won the state award from the Georgia FFA and as a result was automatically submitted into the national competition. He’s been waiting ever since to learn the national results, which came in on Friday, August 4. He will now attend the 90th National Convention in Indianapolis October 25-28 to compete against the other three national finalists. So far, his research project has not only garnered national recognition but also netted monetary rewards--$500 for winning the state competition and $500 for being a national finalist. Should he win the national competition he would earn an additional $500.
According to Harper, many people are questioning the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder.
“I did some research and found out that one of the leading causes is an ectoparasite called the Varroa mite,” Harper explained. “Essentially it’s a lot like a tick. It travels around the hive and latches on to the back of the bee. It can suck the blood out of it but really, it causes the most damage by increasing the risk of diseases being spread throughout the colony because it leaves that cut. Viruses can enter that cut and one of the worst diseases that it causes is Deformed Wing Virus. It deforms the wings to the point the bees cannot fly, so they cannot go out and pollinate flowers or bring in and make honey. I tried to figure out a solution to the issue of the Varroa mite.”
During his research, Harper discovered that Oxalic Acid, a gaseous compound that can rise up throughout the colony, might cause the wings of the Varroa mite to fall off the bees and on to the ground.
“I wanted to test Oxalic Acid and see if it would cause a significant mortality rate of the Varroa mites,” said Harper. “I did this project two years ago and it didn’t work but I wanted to repeat the treatment process again. This year, I exposed the hive to the Oxalic Acid for a longer amount of time. I doubled the amount of time of exposure and it rendered a successful treatment. The four-minute treatment of the acid actually caused a higher mortality rate of the mite than the two-minute treatment.”
“To me this is awesome,” said Pollard. “It’s like the dream scenario for a teacher because Dos had no bee experience whatsoever and in his sophomore year I just threw out an idea to the whole class. I said, ‘I’ve got a cool project if anybody wants to do it let me know.’ What’s really neat about it is that in 2015, Oxalic Acid was banned in the United States by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), but the bees were dying at such an alarming rate that President Obama signed an executive order to go off of Canada’s Department of Agriculture’s research, and all of a sudden we were able to use it. It was a very hot topic in class. Dos had no experience with bees ever before, no experience with Oxalic Acid, but he took the idea and ran with it. And now he knows more about the stuff than I do, which is great.”
A senior now, Harper has worked on the project for more than two years.
“That’s the coolest thing,” said Harper. “It was just legalized when I started this project. Nobody had really done a lot of tests yet. Nobody really knew if it was going to be effective or not, so that’s why I wanted to test it out myself.”
Pollard said, “Not only did he take a new thing, dive into it and run with it, but then exactly how the scientific method should be, he did an experiment, he had more questions after the experiment, and created another one. He implemented both experiments and learned a lot from them.”
According to Harper, that spells success.
“That’s what determines a successful experiment,” Harper explained. “If it renders more questions in the end than you had to begin with.”
While the national competition is still a couple of months away, Harper’s research is already being put to good use at the Newton College & Career Academy.
“There are a lot of people who agree that Oxalic Acid is part of the answer to Colony Collapse Disorder,” said Pollard. “For us, as a result of Dos’ research, we have a more solid plan on how we will manage our bees at the school. We have a better understanding of the practices that we should be implementing here at the school to ensure bee survival because although everybody thinks that we do bees here for honey, truthfully, we manage for survival. I don’t care if I get an ounce of honey.”
“I can’t say enough good things about Dos Harper,” said Chad Walker, principal of Newton College & Career Academy. “He is a natural leader who leads by example. It’s always great to have someone like Dos to help guide the younger students both inside and outside the classroom.”