Insecticide Alters Honey Bees’ Genes, New Study Shows

A popular, controversial insecticide has been found to alter the genes of honey bees, according to a new study, led by Reinhard Stöger of Nottingham University.

The study involved neonicotinoids, a popular insecticide that was recently banned in Europe. The insecticide has also been linked with bee deaths, though not definitively.

In the study, Stöger and his colleagues used two parts per billion of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid. The results showed even the small amount had an effect on some honey bee genes.

The genes affected the most by the insecticide made it harder for the honey bees to combat toxins and perform other functions. The cells in their bodies had to work harder.

The latest results could change the way neonicotinoids and honey bee health are debated, though they will likely be researched further before they can be accepted as a valid reason for honey bee deaths around the world.

The kinds of changes observed in honey bee genes after exposure to neonicotinoids have resulted in a shortened lifespan for fruit flies (the most studied insect in the world). They could also mean a shortened life span for bees.

Essentially, the latest research shows, according to Stöger and his colleagues, that the insecticide isn’t killing bees outright (except in cases of allegedly illegal spraying). Instead, it is much more subtle in its effects.

The larvae produced during the Nottingham study was still able to grow and develop into adult bees. However, their development was hampered by the presence of the insecticide. The changes made the honey bees more vulnerable to stresses like disease, mites, and even strange weather.

The new study was published in the scientific journal Plos One. It appears to support the European Commission’s decision last month to ban three neonicotinoids for a few years over the suspicions that they are causing widespread deaths of honey bees.

A major threat to honey bees in recent years has been Colony Collapse Disorder, which scientists are still trying to find a cause for. While several studies have suggested neonicotinoids are to blame, the link has not been definitive.

While the latest research isn’t definitive either, it will likely play a part in new discussions about neonicotinoids and honey bee deaths.

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