Older Bees Can Reverse Brain Aging by Helping Out Around the Hive

By Chelsea Whyte on July 5, 2012 6:15 PM EDT

honeybee
Older honey bees usually leave the nest to become pollen foragers, but if they return to helping around the hive, they can reverse natural aging in their brain. (Photo: Creative Commons: Red Barnes)

It turns out that being 'busy as a bee' may have some benefits for the brain. New research on these insects shows that bees can reverse aging in their brains by keeping busy in the nest.

"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," said study leader Gro Amdam of Arizona State Unviersity.

After a period of nursing, bees mature and leave the nest to gather food. They begin aging very quickly, in a way that seems to resemble that in humans, according to The Huffington Post. "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," Amdam said.

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In experiments, a team of scientists tested what would happen if they asked foraging bees to come back to the nest to take care of larval babies again. They removed all of the younger nurse bees from a nest, leaving only the queen and her babies. When older forager bees returned to the nest some returned to taking care of the nest and larvae while others left to search for food.

After 10 days, about 50 percent of the older bees who had been caring for the nest and babies had recovered their ability to learn new things. This returning skill set was seen alongside changes in the proteins in bees' brains. Two proteins were noticeably changed: Prx6, which is a protein also found in humans that can help protect against dementia and Alzheimer's; and a 'chaperone' protein that protects other proteins from being damaged when the brain undergoes cell-level stress.

"Maybe social interventions - changing how you deal with your surroundings - is something we can do today to help our brains stay younger," said Amdam, according to LiveScience. "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."

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