By Staff Reporter ( | First Posted: Jul 04, 2012 10:56 AM EDT

Honey bee on a Tulip (Photo : Cordelia)

A group of scientists from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Arizona State University has revealed that older honey bees effectively reverse brain aging when they take care of baby bees.

A study led by Gro Amdam, an associate professor in ASU's School of Life Sciences, announced findings that demonstrate that tricking older bees into implementing social tasks inside the nest triggers changes in the molecular structure of their brains.

The objective of the study was to figure out why bees age when they depart from the nest to search 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," said Amdam.

"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 the experiement scientists got rid of all of the younger nurse bees from the nest and only left the queen and babies. When the older, foraging bees came back to the nest, activity declined for several days. Then, serveral of the old bees came back from finding food, while others cared for the nest and larvae. Scientist found out that after 10 days, around 50 percent of the older bees who took care of the nest and larvae had drastically improved their ability to learn new things.

The study also says scientists discovered a protein that assists in preventing dementia, along with a second "chaperone" protein that protects other proteins from being affected.

Researchers are mainly concerned in creating a drug that could help people maintain brain function, yet they may be facing up to 30 years of basic research and trials before reaching a conclusion.

The head of the study also said studies are required on mammals such as rats in order to examine whether the same molecular changes that the bees had may be socially inducible in people.

Their study was published in the scientific journal Experimental Gerontology, 

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