In celebration of World Honey Bee Day, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is highlighting researcher Dr. Esmaeil Amiri, assistant professor at Mississippi State University’s Delta Research and Extension Center.
Tell us your journey and how your interest in agriculture developed.
My exposure to and appreciation for agriculture started as a child. I grew up in a shepherd family, surrounded by agriculture lands, and sheep and goat herds, which led me to develop an interest in agriculture and later pursue my study in animal science. While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I started my own beekeeping operation and very soon expanded my operation to manage around 250-300 honey bee colonies. As a beekeeper and naïve undergraduate student, I was really fascinated by the value of honey bees to the agriculture economy, both by increasing crop production as well as honey production.
After obtaining my bachelor’s degree and first master’s degree in animal science in Iran, I received a full scholarship from a European program called the Erasmus Mundus-Animal Breeding and Genetics to continue my education in Europe. While pursuing my master’s studies in animal breeding and genetics, I found that current breeding and selection foster economical traits to the detriment of disease resistance. This was concurrent with the description of a novel honey bee health problem called Colony Collapse Disorder. Therefore, I decided to study the impact of viruses and other stressors on honey bee health, with a long-term goal of making global apiculture sustainable again. My beekeeping expertise came in very handy during this time, where I could easily use my beekeeping skills in my science projects as well as connect to the stakeholder communities as needed. During my academic career, I met with many scientists and have been supervised by several great mentors in my research field.
I have sought for my research to contribute to our understanding of the ongoing pollinator health crisis and to improve apicultural practices. I enjoy doing research on honey bee science, since I deeply believe that honey bees are one important part of our modern agriculture activities. Over the past several years, my scientific interests have evolved, and I have become interested in expanding my research to understand transgenerational disease effects, including vertical pathogen transmission, as well as immune priming to enhance offspring immunity. Earlier this year, I joined the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology at Mississippi State University, where I started my research laboratory at the Delta Research and Extension Center, Mississippi. I am also a member of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service Pollinator Health Center, Stoneville, Mississippi. I really enjoy my job, because I have a research and Extension appointment where I continue research to identify sustainable solutions to improve honey bee health, and my job provides me the opportunity to contact beekeepers and queen breeders, as well as growers, to disseminate information for better honey bee management practices.
Describe your involvement with NIFA and your role.
So far, as a new faculty member, I am involved with NIFA through a multistate collaborative team to investigate “Sustainable Solutions to Problems Affecting Bee Health,” where I aim to investigate the dynamic of honey bee viruses and systematically characterize differences in virus susceptibility among honey bee casts.
Could you catch us up on one of your NIFA-funded projects?
I have not yet received any NIFA funds. I submitted a proposal to study viruses in honey bee queens last year, which unfortunately did not get funded, but I received very valuable feedback from reviewers. I plan to improve my research proposal and resubmit it this year. I hope this time it will be granted and will help me to hire master’s degree and Ph.D. students to move my research program forward. In my experience, students are critical to the success of a research laboratory, serving to boost the reputation of the lab and program. They are a source of fresh energy and novel ideas and build a foundation for future success.
What advice do you have for current students who may be interested in pursuing a similar career path?
I have traveled many countries and experienced multiple pedagogical systems during my academic career as both a student (in Iran, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany) and researcher (in Denmark and the United States). It is not easy to move from one country to another unless one has a clear goal and a passion for research aims. As an international student, researcher and now a faculty member, all those obstacles could not overcome my motivation, but I utilized them and developed my problem-solving skills. With that being said, I strongly recommend younger generations explore their interest and enjoy what they do. Through all these years I have met with many scientists in different countries and noticed that those who love their job and research are motivated every day to do more and help their research field to move forward.
Top photo: Dr. Esmaeil Amiri working in the lab at the Delta Research and Extension Center. Image provided by Dr. Amiri.