Parallels from Honey Bees to Aging

8/21/2012
Location : Home Office

By Silverado Staff Writer

The parallels in nature are undeniable. What we can learn from one plant or animal can often provide insight on issues that affect humans as well.

Recently, a research study from Arizona State University found that older honeybees could turn back the clock on mental aging when they took on new duties – like caring for baby bees.

Researchers like to study social insects such as ants and bees because, like humans, they are extremely social creatures. So they asked, “What would happen to the brains of aging bees if they had to take on the care of younger bees?” The result was surprising.

Once the older bees returned from gathering pollen, and the younger “nurse” bees had been removed, the older bees divided up the baby rearing tasks and jumped right back into the swing of things.

The long-standing notion on brain function has been, “use it or lose it.” But, in this study, scientists not only found that older bees showed improvement in their ability to learn new things but their brains experienced changes on a molecular level including higher levels of proteins that can contribute to the healing of brain cells. While the bees who continued foraging showed no positive changes in brain function.

Though the results show evidence that social interactions can play an integral role in how our brains age, more research is needed to see how this applies to mammals; and ultimately humans.  

From Silverado’s experience over the last 15 years though, we can attest to the fact that social engagement and intergenerational interaction contributes to an improved quality of life. Whether this also has implications on preserving and potentially reversing cognitive decline still remains to be seen.

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