Ageing honeybees' learning ability remains intact when social roles are switched

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Washington, July 1 (ANI): While scientists have been aware of the fact that cognitive function among humans declines as they get older, a research team in Germany have found that ageing honeybees can keep their learning ability intact or even improve it by switching their social roles.

Experts at Technische Universitat Berlin are now planning to use honeybees as a model to study general ageing processes in the brain, and hope that they may provide some clues on how to prevent them.

Dr. Ricarda Scheiner, leader of the research team, says that the oldest bees in a colony are the foragers - a task that demands a high amount of energy.

The researcher reveals that with increasing foraging duration, their capacity for associative learning was found to decrease.

According to Scheiner, no decline was observed in nurse bees that remain inside the hive taking care of the brood and the queen, even though their age was the same as that of their foraging sisters.

When a subset of these foragers were artificially forced to revert to nursing tasks, the researchers found that their learning performance improved again, demonstrating a remarkable plasticity in their brain circuits.

"The honey bee is a great model because we can learn a lot about social organisation from it and because it allows us to revert individuals into a 'younger' stage. If we remove all of the nurse bees of a colony, some of the foragers will revert to nursing behaviour and their brains become 'young' again. We thus hope to study the mechanisms responsible for age-dependent effects, like oxidative damage, and also to discover new ways to act against these aging processes," says Dr. Scheiner. (ANI)

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