Are bees able to rejuvenate their brains?

A team of scientists from Arizona State University and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences found out that by returning to the nest some aging bees could learn new things.

Seth Wenig/AP
Nicole Toutounji shows off her bees at their new home at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in June. Thousands of bees make their home on the cathedral grounds.

A team of scientists from Arizona State University and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences discovered that bees are able to reverse the effects of aging on their brains.

Their study, published in the scientific journal Experimental Gerontology, shows that when aging bees return to the nest to perform social tasks, such as taking care of larvae, the molecular structure of their brains change.

Led by Associate Professor in ASU’s School of Life Science, Gro Amdam, the study’s goal was to find out why bees age when they leave the nest to look for food.

“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,” Amdam said in a press release.

“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?”

According to ASU, 10 days after returning to the nest, about half of the older foraging bees caring for the larvae had significantly improved their ability to learn new things.

While some of the older bees returned to searching for food, the team compared each group’s brains and saw a change in proteins. ASU reports that the scientists found a protein that apparently helps protect against dementia, along with a second "chaperone" protein that protects other proteins from being damaged.

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