New research into honey-bees brains suggests we are not the only creatures to benefit from social interactions. Now yes there are a few differences between ourselves and honey-bees: we don’t have wings or fossick for nectar, nor is our lifespan limited to around 2-3 weeks. However, scientists have discovered that older bees especially the foragers, do exhibit age related loss of brain function and memory compared to the nursing bees. Not much fun being an old bee and getting lost trying to find your way home.
What the scientists have discovered, is that if the older bees are “tricked” into staying in the nest and looking after the larvae, they remain mentally competent! There was an improvement in the bees’ ability to learn new things (please don’t ask how they attempted to measure this!) and a change in two particular proteins. One of these proteins can protect against dementia and is also found in human brains.
The suggestion is that by staying socially interactive we can help our brains stay younger. It looks as if the research has got a way to go, as yes, there is a significant jump from studying bees to mammals and humans. However it provides some interesting food for thought as to whether something as simple as social interventions could be helpful to slow or treat age-related dementia.
Nicholas Baker, Florian Wolschin, Gro V. Amdam. Age-related learning deficits can be reversible in honeybees Apis mellifera. Experimental Gerontology, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.exger.2012.05.011