Leo Schirokauer wasn’t always interested in bees.
In fact, he was terrified of them. Summer
40 FALL 2018 | WWW.SHAKER.LIFE
But when Leo was a fourth grader growing up in Oberlin, a librarian brought her hive into
school. She explained the complex nature of hive life and Leo found himself enthralled
“I realized that bees aren’t out to get you. They just want to go about their business,”
he says.” I was fascinated by the way they cooperate without speaking and without cues
that are obvious to us.”
Leo channeled that interest into a Lorain County Beekeepers’ Association essay contest
that asked local children to answer the question, “Why I want to be a beekeeper.” Leo won. His
prize was his very own hive.
Leo already had an interest in science, but tending to his hive of 60,000 bees, harvesting
their honey, and running a bee balm and wax business piqued his interest in his buzzing friends
even more. He grew increasingly interested in biology, so in the summer after his freshman
year, he sought out an internship at an entomology lab at Case, and then the summer after his
sophomore year, he interned at another lab with a focus on molecular biology.
“At some point, it seemed natural
that the practical side of being a beekeeper
should relate to the underlying biology of
bees, so then at the end of last summer, I
had an idea for a treatment for American
Foulbrood,” he says.
The disease is caused by a bacterial
pathogen, which kills honeybee
larvae. Leo’s treatment is based on
paratransgenesis, a technique that uses
genetically modified bacteria to deliver an
enzyme that would kill the bacteria that
causes American Foulbrood. Leo had to find
a lab to support his project, then funding,
and then intellectual propery protection.
By February, he’d managed to find all three
and was able to visit the lab a few times a
week after school.
With full work weeks at his disposal
over this past summer, Leo was able to
make a lot of progress on subcloning, or
preparing, the DNA, and then on placing
it into the species. His goal was to have
an in vivo proof of concept by the start of
school. Between the work in the lab and
doing publicity for his project – including
speaking at local beekeeping events, doing
an interview on Fox 8’s Morning Show, and
helping to organize a Pollinator Day event –
Leo says his summer was all about bees.
He credits a work ethic he’s developed
at the High School with giving him the
stamina to focus on his project and to
sacrifice the typical teenage summer. “In
school, there have been classes that were
really challenging and you just have to
make sure that you do whatever it takes to
get the grade you want,” Leo says. “I apply
that mindset here. I’ll just keep going until
I get the results I’m looking for.”
Photo by Angelo Merendino