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- July 1, 2023 -

April 23, 2023, WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Brock Harpur, assistant professor of entomology, is one of 10 recipients of the 2022 New Innovator in Food & Agriculture Research Award announced last week. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) annually selects early-career scientists to receive the investment.

“We are very excited by the work that Brock is leading at Purdue,” said Catherine Hill, Purdue professor of entomology and department head. “He is an early-career scientist applying genomic technologies to help advance bee breeding capabilities around the nation. The FFAR award will help him deliver leading-edge solutions to strengthen and better protect U.S. pollinator services and agricultural production.”

The award was established to “allow the grantees to focus exclusively on research without the pressure of securing additional funding,” according to FFAR, with the intent to “launch the careers of promising scientists whose research addresses significant food and agriculture challenges.”

“Bees and other pollinators are critical to the productivity of agricultural systems,” said Bernie Engel, senior associate dean of research and graduate education. “Dr. Harpur’s research using cutting-edge science to help ensure healthy and productive bee populations is an important contribution to the sustainability of agricultural systems.”

Harpur said, “U.S. beekeepers lose about 30% of their colonies annually. And that can shoot up to 60% in a given year. Most of the losses are a result of pests, the most common being the varroa mite.”

Harpur plans to use the funding to work with his stakeholders and help them incorporate genomics into their practice. The goal is to make bee breeding more effective and fuel basic science along the way.

“This will be among the first times genomics has been used for bee breeding efforts in the United States,” Harpur said. “We pitched this for varroa mite and disease resistance, but the principles and practices we are developing can be used anywhere.

“I do not think I would have received this award if I did not have our large stakeholder group behind me. Between 5% and 8% of global crops by weight are pollinated by honey bees. In the United States, honey bees contribute around $18 billion a year to the economy through pollination and honey production. People are interested in applying these technologies but either don’t know how or need some ground truthing. This award and its funding allow us to do that.”

To qualify for the award, faculty members must be in the first three years of their scientific career and within eight years of receiving their Ph.D. They must also conduct research that aligns with FFAR’s challenge areas. FFAR’s ideal awardees have “creative ideas, skills, knowledge and resources necessary to carry out the proposed research program.”