A Tribute to the Father of Honeybee Genetics
Friday, September 19, 2014
By: Adrian Duehl
Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr. devoted his life to improving bee health with passion and commitment. He passed away eleven years ago, today, at the age of 96.
His research helped bees resist the deadly scourge of diseases and the varroa mite. He advanced the science of bee mating and breeding so that scientists can effectively raise lines of bees that are able to resist environmental challenges. All this helped him earn his title as “the father of honeybee genetics.”
According to his family, Harry was interested in bees from an early age—no doubt encouraged by his grandfather, Charles Quinn, who was a beekeeper. He teamed up with his grandpa at the young age of six to experiment with bee mating - a sign of great things to come.
Laidlaw pursued his interest in bees in every capacity. Throughout his career, he worked for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture, the USDA Southern States Bee Culture Field Laboratory and the USDA Bee Research Lab. He served as the army’s chief entomologist and even established a honeybee breeding program for the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture.
In 1947, Laidlaw joined the Department of Entomology at the University of California, Davis. He worked there for 27 years as a teacher, researcher and publisher. The Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis was named in his honor and continues his legacy.
As a research entomologist for Bayer CropScience, I have enjoyed collaborating with the scientists at UC Davis to obtain bees for toxicity testing, and hope to continue to work with the new outreach scientist team to develop solutions to aid honeybee health. The bee research done at the Laidlaw bee research center not only helps beekeepers and agriculture, but also continues the work of Harry Laidlaw by using honeybees as a model insect to understand basic science questions such as the genetic underpinnings of sociality.
Harry was a pioneer who developed techniques revolutionizing direct queen insemination, allowing anyone to build and use an apparatus to breed and maintain controlled bee populations. I can only imagine Harry alive in today’s work—with access to the honeybee genome and knowledge of current revolutions in molecular technology. On this, the anniversary of his death, I pause to remember one of our field’s leaders who made beekeeping accessible to everyone.
Adrian Duehl is an entomologist with Bayer CropScience Biologics. His background includes work with the chemical ecology of pests and parasites of the honey bee, the Varroa Mite and the Small Hive Beetle from a post doc with the USDA ARS in Gainsville FL and forest entomology from a PhD at NC State University. His specialty is devising bioassays to evaluate insect responses to chemical stimuli. Adrian leads the entomology team in the Invertebrate and Pathogen Biology group. After growing up in the mountains of Virginia then living in flatter land he is enjoying living close to mountains again. Adrian balances his love of research with spending time with his wife and two young children.