Marla Spivak

Photo: Dan Marshall, Courtesy of Marla Spivak

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The Bees' Keeper: Marla Spivak
Who she is: A pioneering honeybee researcher, Spivak is helping to protect honeybees from colony collapse disorder. In recent years, the mysterious illness has decimated entire hives and, in turn, is threatening the broader food chain. Honeybees pollinate roughly one-third of the American food supply each year—$15 billion worth of crops. Some, like avocados, apples, and cherries, are 90 percent dependent on bees.

Breakthrough idea: Beekeepers have long used pesticides and antibiotics to control parasites and pathogens, but Spivak instead focused on the bees' traits. She began breeding a line of bees for "hygienic behavior," a genetically based trait that prompts bees to remove diseased or infested offspring from the hive to prevent the problem from spreading. "I knew it would be better for the bees to develop their own defenses and not have to rely on human intervention," she says.

What's next: Opening the Bee Research and Discovery Center, a hub of honeybee testing and data, laboratories, and public demonstrations on sustainable beekeeping and honey extraction.

What the experts say: "Saving the honeybees is one of the most important tasks we face. If we lose them, it will be very hard for us to feed ourselves." —Michael Pollan, author

Breakthrough advice: "Don't shy away from making mistakes—it means you're learning." —Tracie McMillan