UNCG Magazine

Kaira Wagoner, “all the buzz”

Kaira Wagoner ’15 PhD is 50% research scientist, 50% start-up founder, and all abuzz for bees. 

After graduating from UNCG in 2015 she served as a postdoc researcher in UNCG’s Social Insect Lab, and became the research scientist for her own lab at UNCG in April of 2021. 

“Bees contribute to one in every three bites of food we eat, and are the most managed pollinator in the world,” she says. “They can serve as a sort of ‘canary in the coal mine’ for other important pollinators.”  

She points out that diseases can spread between honey bees and other pollinators when they visit the same flowers. As a result, understanding honey bee health can clue us in on the challenges facing other pollinators, and improving honey bee health can prevent the spread of pests and diseases between insects important for crop and natural ecosystem pollination.

Through her UNCG research, Wagoner discovered that honey bee larvae release a higher amount of certain pheromones if they are carrying parasites such as the Varroa mite. Sensing these pheromones, adult bees remove those unhealthy bees from the colony so the entire colony can thrive. Through their Greensboro-based startup company Optera, Wagoner and UNCG colleague Phoebe Snyder ’21 MS are now developing that fundamental science discovery into a practical tool that beekeepers can use to manage their hives and improve colony pest and disease resistance.   

Between UNCG and Optera, Wagoner is currently managing 11 different research grants, collaborating with researchers in California, Vermont, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Israel – and performing research at four different local apiaries, including UNCG’s new Plant and Pollinator Center in Browns Summit. Wagoner says she is “thrilled to be able to work at the new Plant and Pollinator Center,” which aims to present public programming on bees and healthy pollination to the broader community. 

To learn more about Wagoner’s work, check out the recent hit feature on her 2021 publication on Youtube’s Inside the Hive TV.

By Colin Cutler ’16 MA
Photography by Martin W. Kane

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