Bees Can Reverse Brain Aging
A study conducted at the Arizona State University have found that elderly honey bees are able to reverse brain aging. This was found that despite their advanced age, they are able to manage hive responsibilities usually managed by much younger bees.
This finding is important as there is current research on age-related dementia in humans and potential new drug regimens might be found from these senior honey bees. The researchers have found that social interventions in bees, and hopefully in humans can effectively mitigate the effects of dementia due to advancement of age.
The study was published in the journal Experimental Gerontology and it was conducted by scientists from ASU in cooperation with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. The study was lead by Gro Amdam, an associate professor with the School of Life Sciences at ASU. The findings indicated that tricking the older forager bees in performing socially inclined tasks in the hive results in changes in their brain structure and functioning.
Amdam declared, “We knew from previous research that when bees stay in the nest and take care of larvae – the bee babies – they remain mentally competent for as long as we observe them. However after a period of nursing, bees fly out gathering food and begin aging very quickly. After just two weeks, foraging bees have worn wings, hairless bodies and more importantly, lose brain function – basically measured as the ability to learn new things. We wanted to find out if there was plasticity in this aging pattern so we asked the question, ‘What would happen if we asked the foraging bees to take care of larval babies again?’”
In experiments conducted for the study, the researchers had removed all the younger nurse bees from the hive, leaving only the queen and the babies. When the elder foraging bees had returned to the nest, the activity lessened for several days. When some of the elderly bees returned to foraging for food, the others remained in the hive and took care of the larvae bees. The study researchers found that after ten days in the hive, about half of the elderly bees had significantly improved to learn new things when they remained in the hive.
The team not only observed the ability to learn return to these bees, they also found a change in the protein make up in the bee’s brains. When the brains of the hive bees and forager bees were compared, they found two proteins change in the make up. They also discovered the presence of Prx6, a protein that helps combat dementia also found in humans as well as other conditions such as Alzheimer’s. There was also a discovery of a second protein that chaperones and protects other proteins from being damaged when exposed to cell level stresses.
The boon of this discovery is in the creation of a drug that can help maintain brain functionality but the formulation can still be up to thirty years away in the future. Amdam further added, “Maybe social interventions – changing how you deal with your surroundings – is something we can do today to help our brain stay younger. Since the proteins being researched in people are the same proteins bees have, these proteins may be able to spontaneously respond to specific social experiences.” The study lead further suggested that studies be done on mammals such as rats to investigate if the same molecular changes that bees undergo may also be doable in mammals and eventually humans.