Bees hold insights into how to reverse aging?


Margaret Coulombe

“Bees can become mentally young again with just a few simple alternations to their otherwise fixed routines,” reports the blog io9 and the online journal Science Daily, based on studies by Gro Amdam, an associate professor with ASU’s School of Life Sciences and Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

Amdam’s group examined learning and memory and analyzed several proteins involved in growth, repair and maintenance of the brain in young bees, which typically tend the larval brood in the hive, and with older bees, which forage for nectar and pollen away from the hive.

The group has found that in accordance with this division of labor between older and younger bees, there is a division in the ability of the two groups of bees to learn tasks and remember. Typically, younger bees are more able to quickly make connections between a stimulus and a reward, and to remember longer. Amdam’s studies with older bees differ sharply, with a loss in both short term memory and learning; a result that suggests that older bees might be experiencing senescence.

“This is where things get interesting,” blogger Alasdair Wilkins’ reports. By switching the bees” tasks, putting older bees in with the brood, Amdam discovered a rapid alternation in both their learning and memory. She also discovered that this social change was reflected in changes in expression of eight proteins in the brains of the older bees. “More than twice that of normal,” Amdam is quoted as saying. Several of these proteins are found in human, which suggests that they could play a key role for humans too. “This is evidence of a certain flexibility in the bee brain, and it is conceivable that the brains of other animals and humans could have a similar potential. If so, the question is whether we would be able to figure out how to tap into this flexibility. Another approach would be to try and figure out how the relevant bee proteins work, and then create substances that trigger similar effects.”

Amdam’s research was funded in part by the Norwegian Research Council. To read the full article in io9, a blog for young readers: