AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Bees

The Humane Honey Bee

A recently published study in Molecular Ecology from Penn State introduced the fascinating world of worker honey bees and their altruistic characteristics. These characteristics are shown when worker bees assist the queen bee after being exposed to her pheromone. It involves deactivating their own ovaries, helping to share the pheromone with other workers, and caring for the queen and her eggs. What’s fascinating is that the genes responsible for driving this altruistic behavior can be inherited from either parent. However, the study revealed a twist: these genes only lead to altruism when passed down from the mother, not the father. This finding suggests that the origin of gene inheritance from the mother or father profoundly impacts honey bees’ behavior.

European honey bee extracts nectar

This study also lends strong support to the Kinship Theory of Intragenomic Conflict, which proposes that genes from both parents may be in conflict over which behaviors to support or discourage. As briefly talked about in class, genetic inheritance occurs due to genetic material, in the form of DNA, being passed from parents to their offspring. Genes, which consist of specific DNA sequences, contain the instructions for protein synthesis through the genetic code. Hereditary processes are utilized to read these DNA sequences and assemble proteins accordingly. In essence, genes are the segments of DNA that code for proteins. In the case of honey bees, genes inherited from the mother encourage altruistic behavior that ultimately benefits the queen’s reproductive success, while genes from the father tend to lean more towards self-serving behavior.

To get to these conclusions, the researchers conducted a series of experiments that involved cross-breeding different honey bee lineages. They assessed the responsiveness of worker bees to the queen’s pheromone and observed behavior. This investigation allowed them to identify the significance of maternal or paternal gene expression bias in shaping honey bee behavior. Overall, this study provides insights into the complex world of gene conflicts in honey bees and suggests that gene origin plays a vital role in shaping behaviors.

(Post includes edits suggested by Grammarly)

Bees Can Coach Soccer

Even a bee is better at playing soccer than I am. Ecologist Olli Loukola of Queen Mary University of London and his team have taught a number of bumblebees (Bombus Terrestris) to move a wooden ball to a specific point to be rewarded with food: AKA, Bee soccer (boccer?). The scientists had a number of bees in the stands, watching and cheering on the pro soccer players. After watching three intense games, the bees that had originally only attended the pro soccer games were put into the field. It’s a rags to riches tale of a bee that once only dreamed of playing soccer getting a chance to make it pro. Under pressure, the novice bees scored goals nearly every time, truly proving themselves to be professional bee soccer league material. However, bees that did not watch the soccer games beforehand only scored 30% of the time.

Graham Wise,

While this seems like simply a fun spin off of the bee movie, it was actually a productive use of the researchers time! The fact that the bees were able to learn how to perform a task shows that they have the ability to pick up on social cues. While it took a while for the researchers to teach the initial pro bee soccer players, the second group learned how to play much faster just by watching other bees perform the task.

In a second type of bee soccer, the researchers put three balls in front of the bees. Two of them were glued down to the table, and the third (which was farthest from the goal) was free to roll. While the untrained bees watched, the coach bees were only able to score using the third ball. However, when three balls that were free to roll were presented to the untrained bees, nearly all of them moved the closest ball to the goal, rather than the farthest one that they had seen the instructors use. This proves that the bees were able to actually think about their actions, rather than just imitate the actions of the bees before them. We may see bee olympics in the near future. Or they might take over the world. Be(e) prepared for both.


What is happening to bees?

The media has been buzzing lately about bees! Pesticides and fungicides have long been thought to be problematic for our yellow, fuzzy, pollinator friends, but never more-so then now; 7 species of bees have been officially placed on the US Endangered Species List. In fact, a UN sponsored report revealed that over 40% of pollinator species such as bees and butterflies are facing extinction. This is an incredibly dangerous statistic, as 75% of the world’s food supply depends at least partly on pollination.

This rapid decline is forcing scientists to reexamine the use of pesticides on crops and bee colonies, and begin to think holistically. It’s a concept reminiscent of cancer research, calculating the “exposome,” or the net amount of pesticides an organism is exposed to over its lifetime.

When investigating the health of bees it is important to consider the colony as a single “super-organism” led by the queen bee, rather than individuals. On average, a queen bee will live for around two years, but lately queens haven’t been making it through a single season. Sometimes, the colony is able to replace her, but often they cannot. The loss of a queen can end in death for the entire colony.

Why is this happening?

After following almost a hundred colonies owned by three different beekeepers, for a full agricultural season, researchers from the University of Maryland found a total of 93 different pesticide compounds that came in contact with the bees. Some of these accumulated in wax, pollen and even the bodies of Nurse Bees. After further tests, they found between 5 and 20 different pesticide residues in every sample that exceeded the “hazard quotient”, or amount of a toxin an organism can handle. One surprising finding concerns fungicides, an alternative long thought to have been bee-friendly. In fact, these fungicides tended to have even more deadly effects on Queen Bees.

What can we do?

Ultimately, these findings, coupled with the rapid decline of bee population nationally shows us that we as humans are undeniably at least partly responsible for the decline of bee population. Bees are crucial to our way of life, and we should do everything we can to protect them. By supporting sustainable agriculture practices, and farms that use alternative forms of pest and fungus control, you too can do your part to save the bees.


The Buzzing Battle of the Bees



There is a species of bees called “commercial” bees. These bees are kept by beekeepers to pollinate crops such as tomatoes, sweet peppers, and oilseed. This population of managed bees is coming down with “fast evolving viruses”, according to the University of Exeter in Science Daily News.

Then there are “wild” bees, free to fly around, not employed by beekeepers. The viruses that the commercial bees have are starting to spread to the wild bee population. Currently, researchers are “calling for new measures” to protect the wild pollinators, and confine the commercial, diseased population. In the article, Dr. Lena Wilfert said this can be controlled by beekeepers keeping a vigil eye and monitoring the commercial bees they own. It is their “responsibility” to do so. Also, interesingly enough, the international transport of these commercial bees must have more checks and security. They must be screened better, in order to get a better sense of how many have a disease, so they know not to set any of the commercial bees free into the wild.

The major cause of the spread is the Varroa mite. This spreads viruses, such as the Deformed Wing Virus, and may increase the power of the viral spread. It significantly weakens bees, causing their RNA to deteriorate. The article says that it has been “identified as an emerging disease in pollinators,” and there is a connection between wild bumblebees who have it, and commercial honeybees.

The poor management of the commercial bee community is the cause of this horrible break out of diseases among innocent wild bees. In the future, researchers plan to investigate which species of commercial bees are the major cause of the breakout and spread. The wild bee population is extremely important for our environment, and beekeepers need to realize that, and make sure their bee farm does not spread disastrous diseases.


*Additional information is found through the last two hyperlinks.*

*Original article is the first hyperlink.*

Echinacea’s Habitat Decline

The plant that is commonly used to treat flu and cold symptoms, Echinacea, is beginning to suffer from a disappearing habitat. A flowering plant part of the daisy familyEchinacea grows in central and North America in mostly dry, wooded areas. As one of the “top five” herbal remedies sold in retail stores, the coneflower is regarded as an American staple to relieve suffers’ of the cold and flu. However, their habitat is in decline from human activities, bees, and deadly aphids

EchinaceaPurpureaMaxima1a.UME          Certain human activities have caused wildlands to shrink and splintered the landscape. As one of the most endangered habitats in the world, tailgrass prairie is throughly studied by scientists in order to track how Echinacea reacting to its changing environment and they are also working to save these prairie patches.

Bees have been known by scientists to pollinate the coneflower plant, Dr. Wagenius says “A bee might have been able to fly across a hundred mile expanse of coneflowers. Could it still do that today? No way.” Pollination for these plants is not at all where it should be, as bees can only pollinate these plants up to short distances.

Coneflower plants are now becoming genetically related in the prairies. If a bee brings pollen to these different plant siblings, the plant may reject the pollen. Therefore, there are no new seeds and populations decrease. A new danger to the coneflower is aphids; they devour prairies of Echinacea. As well, scientists urge prairie farmers to set fire to habitats (since they are necessary to these ecosystems). By inducing the plant to flower, new genetic diversity may be reached.

Caffeine Enhances Memory in Bees

Photo credits to Treesha Duncan at

Researchers recently discovered that honeybees get a memory boost from caffeine, both short-term and long-term. In their study, honeybees that consumed a solution with sugar and caffeine were three times more likely to remember a flower’s scent than honeybees that consumed a solution with just sugar. Three times as many bees that drank the first solution remembered the scent a day later and twice as many bees remembered the scent after three days.

This connection does not just help bees with their “foraging prowess” but also benefits plants that contain caffeinated nectar. According to lead researcher Dr Geraldine Wright, bees that drink the caffeine-laced nectar will carry the coffee pollen to other plants, leading to greater pollination.

Researchers found that the nectar of coffee and citrus plants contains low levels of caffeine. Caffeine generally acts as a defense mechanism in plants with its bitter and unappealing taste, so the presence of caffeine in the nectar surprised Phil Stevenson of the Royal Botanic Gardens. However, the nectar of these plants contained just enough caffeine to affect bee behavior, and not enough to give a bitter taste.

So what does this correlation between caffeine and bees have to do with us?This project was funded by the Insect Pollinators Initiative, as populations of bees have been declining. Understanding  the preferences of bees could provide clues to reinvigorating the species, protecting the balance of our natural ecosystems and agriculture.

The study will also allow scientists further comprehension into how caffeine affects the brain. Although honeybee brains and human brains clearly differ, at the cellular and genetic level, they function similarly. Thus, Dr. Julie Mustard of Arizona State University concludes, “we can use the honeybee to investigate how caffeine affects our own brains and behaviors.” Perhaps their study can explain why many people drink coffee while studying. What do you think?



Bees and HIV


By PaulSteinJC. Photo from Flickr.


30 million people have died due to AIDS.

However, a cure is yet to be found.

HIV is a retrovirus that manages to evade detection from the immune system because the virus hides in latency, incorporated into your DNA.

Instead, doctors give patients a “drug cocktail” that slows the replication and action of HIV enzymes. However, this treatment does not stop the initial infection.

A recent study had found that nanoparticles carrying a toxin found in bee venom can destroy HIV.

Bee venom contains melittin, which can “poke holes in the protective envelope that surrounds HIV,” thereby destroying the virus.

The researchers believe that this discovery can help them develop a vaginal gel that may prevent the spread of HIV.

A researcher Joshua Hood hopes “that in places where HIV is running rampant, people could use this gel as a preventive measure to stop the initial infection.”

Hood also thinks that these nanoparticles could be used to treat existing HIV infections. The nanoparticles could be injected into the blood, clearing HIV from the blood stream.

This is truly a wonderful discovery. Hopefully, this is the first step towards ending the AIDS epidemic.

To read more about HIV visit these sites:


Bee-lieve it, Honey.

It bothers me, to see bees in October. Bees are allowed around for the SUMMER, not mid Autumn. Apparently, I should be appreciating the bees around me. According to an article published Oct 20,  WE NEED bees. That is why the University of B.C is are actually working on a way to keep bees alive LONGER! The bee decline is not only a problem in the United States, but it has become a phenomenon across the world. The UK, China, Japan, Egypt, and across Africa and Europe there has been a noticiable decline in the population of bees. Scientists apart of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) believe in four main reasons for the bee decline:

Honey Bee Macro, Flickr, wildxplorer, some rights reserved

  • Habitat degradation, including the loss of flowering plant species that provide food for bees;
  • Some insecticides, including the so-called “systemic” insecticides which can migrate to the entire plant as it grows and be taken in by bees in nectar and pollen;
  • Parasites and pests, such as the well-known Varroa mite;
  • Air pollution, which may be interfering with the ability of bees to find flowering plants and thus food – scents that could travel more than 800 meters in the 1800s now reach less than 200 meters from a plant.
In March 2011, Dr. Peter Neumann of the Swiss Bee Research Center said “We need to get smarter about how we manage these hives, but perhaps more importantly, we need to better manage the landscape beyond, in order to recover wild bee populations.”

Research at The University of B.C. has shown that by Beekeepers keeping a clean hive, bees will have a higher life expectancy. Considering the fact Bees declined 30% in population from 2010-2011, it is important for humans to help keep these insects alive. Bees help pollinate many plants. Out of 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees. Their declining number, could be drastic to the circle of life. According to University of B.C.’s Leonard Foster, Beekeepers who keep a clean hive, not only have bees with a higher life expectancy, but also build a strong resitence to virures, pesticides, bacteria, and fungi. Foster has already been granted 1.5 million dollars to fund his project, on 4.2 million more to fulfill his full need of 5.7 million. I never knew bees were worth so much money, but you better bee-lieve it, honey. Sources:

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