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22 June 2010

Scientists to get £1.8m to study effect of pesticides on bees' brains

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SCOTTISH researchers have been given £1.8 million to investigate whether pesticides give bees brain disorders

The experts in neuroscience at Dundee University are to research the possibility that chemicals could be harming the bees by affecting the learning capacity and performance of their brains.

There are fears that pesticides are affecting the ability of bees to navigate, communicate and forage for food – hastening their decline in numbers.

Scientists believe the results of the study could also have implications for human health.

It was revealed only last month by the British Beekeepers Association that 17.3 per cent of honey bee colonies across the UK were lost over the winter.

The study is one of nine projects to share in a £10 million funding package announced yesterday as part of National Insect Week.

Pesticides are screened to make sure they are non-lethal to bees before they are passed for use.

However, Dr Chris Connolly of Dundee University's centre for neuroscience said the research team would be examining whether a non-lethal combination of chemicals used in agriculture may be causing unexpected damage to the insects.

He said: "Many insecticides work by interfering with information flow in the brains of insects – either increasing or decreasing their brain activity.

"We will be looking at whether chronic exposure to chemicals used to control mites, combined with levels of agricultural pesticides that are not themselves lethal, may act together to magnify their affects on bee brain function."

The study will include fitting tiny radio frequency ID tags on bees, which will record when they come in and out of the nest, while the insects will also be weighed to see how successful they are at bringing back food.


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