Pupils monitor their bees’ health in the lab

Published: 8 January 2020

Young beekeepers use lab techniques to investigate parasites in their own bees at Easter Bush Science Outreach Centre.

Pupils worked with researchers and experienced beekeepers from the Roslin Institute to understand how science can be used to monitor honey bee health.

The pupils, from Kelso High School and Annan Academy, are enrolled in a new beekeeping course, provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s new National Progression Award.

The experiments focused on two parasites that affect the health of bees. Pupils collected honey bee samples for DNA extraction from their schools’ apiaries.

They observed parasites present in the bees by using molecular biology techniques– conducting PCR and DNA gel electrophoresis.

The workshop enabled the pupils to develop a deeper understanding of the theory and techniques used in honey bee research.

Thanks to this unique citizen science project, they now better understand the health of their bee colonies to better inform hive management. The experience they gained at EBSOC will support what they are learning from their beekeeping course.

Spending a day at EBSOC was a unique opportunity for the pupils to engage with real-life science and Roslin Institute scientists, encouraging pupils to consider pursuing a science qualification and career.

We provided the pupils with an immersive hands-on experience. They were given full ownership of their own investigation and we were there to guide them, together with their teachers and beekeepers.

Dr Mark Barnett. Research Fellow at the Roslin Institute and Coordinator of the Campus Apiary

It’s been such a wonderful experience working with the young people on this project and watching them engage with biology in a way that they can really connect with. Most of the pupils in this group do not study biological science and would not identify maths as a favourite subject either, so to hear them discuss DNA, parasites and probability so enthusiastically really goes to show the strength of this vocational qualification. Huge thanks to the highly professional EBSOC team who made the day so special for us all.

Fiona Highet. Senior Entomologist, SASA – Scottish Government

The success of this project has only been possible because people are committed to the idea of working in partnership to promote learning about honey bees. It is satisfying that learning science in the context of a fascinating topic such as honey bees can appeal to young people who have not previously shown an interest in these sciences.

Ray Baxter, Teacher at Kelso High School

Our students said that learning about DNA and new techniques in the lab was a fun, amazing experience – one of them actually said that the day at EBSOC was the best day she has ever had.

Lorraine Johnson, Annan Academy

Thank you, my daughter is really enjoying this project. She said that having the opportunity to work with such inspiring people is wonderful and it has really helped her to develop her skills and understanding of honey bee health.


The pupils will return to EBSOC in June to re-test their colonies for the same parasites and there is scope to get pupils from other schools involved.

More schools are getting apiaries and running the course. Earlier this year, we hosted a meeting at EBSOC with potential new course organisers and teachers from all over Scotland. The interest was high, so we will certainly hold the beekeeping workshop in 2020/2021.

Jayne Quoiani, Education & Engagement Officer

This project is funded by the Royal Society Schools Partnership Grant scheme and supported by Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA).



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