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Tuesday, 24 July 2018 14:25

Pesticides linked to loss of brain functions in bees

Research group participating in the study Research group participating in the study

Researchers from the group AGR-159 attached to ceiA3 '' Residues of Pesticides '' of the University of Almería have experienced that, the exposure to pesticides of insects responsible for flowering and pollination of plants, causes the loss of neuropeptides in its body. These molecules regulate the nervous mechanisms of learning and memory, appetite, sexual behaviour or pain control and blood pressure. Among the novelties, the field study stands out, where more than 60 samples of apiaries from all over Spain have been studied.

Experts from the Physics and Chemistry Department of the University of Almeria (UAL) confirmed that the exposure to pesticides can affect brain functions in bees, as they cause a decrease in neuropeptides. These small molecules are key for regulating nervous mechanisms of learning and memory, appetite, sexual behaviour or control of pain and blood pressure. According to experts, the presence of these substances is another of the reasons why these insects are disappearing; Insects that are responsible for the flowering and pollination of plants. The field study stands out, where more than 60 samples of apiaries from all over Spain have been studied.

Researchers have identified 25 peptides in the bees group most affected by pesticides. The results of the study confirm that, when bees are exposed to pesticides, there is an alteration of these elements, as the doctors of UAL, María José Gómez, and María del Mar Gómez said.

Besides the fact to be a field study, experts highlight as a novelty that there are very few studies dealing with neuropeptides, given the difficulty to analyze them.

The process is described in the article 'Analysis and evaluation of (neuro) peptides in honey bees exposed to pesticides in field conditions', published in Environmental Pollution journal. This research will boost more attempts in real situations. In this sense, a few months ago, some projects of international organizations, funded by the European Food Safety Agency managed to remove pesticides widely used in pest control from the market.

The role of bees is essential to maintain natural ecosystems or produce food, due to their pollinator task. Numerous worldwide studies (including the one carried out by the Pesticide Residue Group of the UAL, headed by professor Amadeo R. Fernández-Alba), try to discover what is happening with these insects, that are essential to preserve biodiversity.


High and low levels

Firstly, it was studied a total of 260 pesticides in bees; Then, they were classified into two groups, one with highs and the other one with low levels of pesticides. The investigation was divided into two parts. Subsequently, differences between the two groups of insects were examined, comparing those with high and low pesticide concentrations; for this, heads were dissected. The sample of every 60 apiaries observed was composed of 500 specimens of six of their hives selected at random.

The analysis of these groups of bees is undertaken through advanced techniques series; liquid chromatography, coupled with low and high-resolution mass spectrometry. These kinds of procedures allow to identify, separate and quantify different elements of the sample, obtaining data from thousands of compounds. Next, a statistical analysis is carried out to prioritize the most important ones. Using a specific computer program, this information is transferred to a database to identify the neuropeptides that are present.

UAL scientists point out a decrease of bees caused by several reasons: parasites, pathogens, modification of habitats, invasive species, or climate change. However, numerous studies have concluded that pesticides are also an important factor in this population loss.

The research is funded by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities  in the framework of the National R + D + I plan, within the projects' Improvement of production conditions in beekeeping operations, impact of veterinary treatments in conventional management, and colony welfare indicators', and 'Evaluation and integrated study of pesticides and molecular mass profiles for characterization of neuropeptides and biomarkers related to depopulation of honey bees'.

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