World Honeybee Day Profile: Dr. Esmaeil Amir

In celebration of World Honeybee Day, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) highlights researcher Dr. Esmaeil Amiri, assistant professor at Mississippi State University’s Delta Research and Extension Center.

Tell us about your journey and how your interest in farming developed.

dr. Amiri is an assistant professor at Mississippi State University, where he works in the research lab at the Delta Research and Extension Center, Mississippi. Image provided by Dr. Amiri.

My exposure to and appreciation for agriculture started as a child. Growing up in a herding family, surrounded by farmland and herds of sheep and goats, I became interested in agriculture and later continued my studies in animal sciences. While pursuing my undergraduate degree I started my own beekeeping and soon expanded my business to manage about 250-300 honey bee colonies. As a beekeeper and naive student, I was really fascinated by the value of honey bees to the agricultural economy, both by increasing crop production and honey production.

After obtaining my bachelor’s and first master’s degree in animal sciences in Iran, I received a full scholarship from a European program called Erasmus Mundus-Animal Breeding and Genetics to continue my education in Europe. During my master studies in animal breeding and genetics, I discovered that current breeding and selection promote economic traits at the expense of disease resistance. This coincided with the description of a new honeybee health problem called Colony Collapse Disorder. So I decided to study the impact of viruses and other stressors on honeybee health, with the long-term goal of making global beekeeping sustainable again. My beekeeping expertise came in very handy during this time, where I could easily use my beekeeping skills in my science projects and connect with stakeholders as needed. During my academic career I have met many scientists and have been mentored by several great mentors in my field of research.

I have sought to contribute with my research to our understanding of the ongoing pollinator health crisis and to improve beekeeping practices. I enjoy researching honeybee science because I firmly believe that honeybees are an important part of our modern farming activities. In recent years, my scientific interests have evolved and I have become interested in expanding my research to understand the effects of transgenerational diseases, including vertical transmission of pathogens, as well as immune priming to enhance the immunity of offspring. Earlier this year, I joined the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology, and Plant Pathology at Mississippi State University, where I began my research lab 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 as I have a research and renewal appointment where I continue research to find sustainable solutions to improve honeybee health, and my job gives me the opportunity to contact beekeepers and queen breeders as well as with growers, to disseminate information for better honeybee management practices.

Describe your involvement with NIFA and your role.

So far, as a new faculty member, I am involved in NIFA through a multi-static collaborative team to explore “Sustainable Solutions to Problems Affecting Bee Health”, exploring honeybee virus dynamics and systematic differences in virus susceptibility between honeybee casts.

Can you update us on one of your NIFA-funded projects?

I have not yet received NIFA money. I submitted a proposal last year to study viruses in honeybee queens, which unfortunately was not funded, but I received very valuable feedback from reviewers. I intend to improve my research proposal and resubmit it this year. I hope it will be awarded this time and will help me to get a masters degree and Ph.D. students to advance my research program. In my experience, students are critical to the success of a research lab and serve to enhance the reputation of the lab and the program. They are a source of new energy and new ideas and are a foundation for future success.

What advice do you have for current students who may be interested in a similar career path?

I have traveled many countries and experienced multiple pedagogical systems during my academic career as 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 you have a clear goal and a passion for research goals. As an international student, researcher and now a faculty member, all those obstacles could not overcome my motivation, but I used them and developed my problem-solving skills. That said, I highly recommend younger generations explore their interest and enjoy what they are doing. Through all these years I have met many scientists in different countries and noticed that those who love their work and research are motivated every day to do more and advance their field of research.

Top photo: Dr. Esmaeil Amiri at work in the lab at the Delta Research and Extension Center. Image provided by Dr. Amiri.

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