July 4, 2012
Want To Reverse The Effects Of Aging On The Brain? Look To The Noble Bee
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
It´s often been said that children expedite the aging process. At least, that´s what my parents always told me growing up. Pointing to their gray hairs and worn lines, they´d shoot ferocious looks at my younger brother and I and say, “Look what you did to me! I hope you have children who act just like you so you´ll understand what you´ve put me through!”
Well, if a group of scientists are correct – and some liberties can be taken in logical reasoning – taking care of children could actually reverse aging and slow the rate of age-related dementia. That´ll show my parents.
At least, that´s the effect child rearing has had on older bees.
Scientists at Arizona State University have found that when older honey bees are asked to take on some of the nest responsibilities normally held by much younger bees, the effects of brain aging reverses. Now, these researchers are saying their findings suggest simple social interventions could have the same effects on humans.
Gro Amdam, an associate professor at ASU´s School of Life Sciences led a team of scientists from ASU and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences to conduct a study, tricking older bees into doing the nest work of younger bees. The team has presented their findings in the scientific journal Experimental Gerontology.
“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?”
To conduct the study, the team removed all of the young nurse bees from the hive, leaving only the queen and her babies. When the older, foraging bees came back to the nest, things slowed down around the nest as the bees decided who was going to do what. A few days later they had sussed it out, as some of the older bees returned to their life of foraging while some stayed behind to care for the baby bees. According to the study, 50% of those older bees which stayed behind significantly improved their ability to learn new things.
Not only did Amdam´s team notice an improvement in the older bee´s ability to learn, they also noticed the very makeup of the protein in the bee´s brains had changed, suggesting that these new tasks had quite literally changed the bees on a molecular level.
In fact, the scientists found a protein called Prx6–a protein found in human brains which can help protect against dementia and Alzheimer´s–present in the older bee´s brains.
As it stands, many researchers are trying to create a medication which will help stave off the effects of Alzheimer´s in some senior citizens. While such research could prove fruitful, it could take them upwards of 30 years to reach their goals.
“Maybe social interventions – changing how you deal with your surroundings – is something we can do today to help our brains stay younger,” said Amdam. “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.”
Amdam suggests more studies be done to fully understand the effect these social interventions have on a human brain.