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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

File under "awesome experiments I wish I had thought of"

ResearchBlogging.orgI love it when I stumble upon a study that I really wish I'd thought of. I'm not a jealous researcher - I don't wish I'd sequenced the GFP gene before everyone so that I got a Nobel Prize instead. I don't wish I'd made some significant breakthrough in my field. No, I wish I'd thought of this first: Bees on Cocaine.

I mean, seriously? Who thinks of these things?



Honey Bee...
hitting the nose candy?

Anyhow, a group of scientists (including a team of very lucky undergraduates) looked at how honey bees reacted to being fed a little Big C. Apparently, there was speculation previously that insects respond differently to coke than mammals due to extreme differences in neural physiology. The study sought to determine if that, in fact, were true, and bees had completely different responses to drug addiction than people.

According to the publication, the bees responded to cocaine addiction much in the same way we do. They overestimated the value of food resources (and even boasted to their fellow bees about their stellar finds) and showed strong signs of withdrawal, including the inability to tell the difference between lemon and vanilla (the equivalent of being totally cracked out in humans, apparently).

The bees, however, showed no locomotor effects to being drugged. People on high doses of cocaine lose coordination, get dizzy, and get blurry vision, but the bees seemed to be fine. They were able to return from feeding and waggle the exact position of food resources, albeit exaggerated ones.

The fact that someone really drugged bees with cocaine in the first place is simply fantastic. But on top of that, they may have learned some very valuable information about drug addiction and the nature of cocaine. It shows that in both humans and insects, the amine systems run the reward system. Which brings up an interesting paradox - if cocaine is produced by the plant to deter herbivores, isn't it a bad idea to make a compound that's addictive?

The study authors believe that since the reinforcing properties of cocaine are actually opposite of the plant's intentions (not being eaten), they occur as a "side effect." In other words, the plant's defensive strategy of producing cocaine to disrupt the herbivore's motor pathway may have worked, but it had the unfortunate (for the plant, anyway) effect of affecting reward pathways as well, leading to our well-known addiction issues. The researchers hope to probe further into the neural responses of bees to cocaine as a way of unravelling even more information about the addictive properties of the drug, including its effects on humans.

All this from a few snow-blowin' bees. Why can't I think of a study like that?

A. B. Barron, R. Maleszka, P. G. Helliwell, G. E. Robinson (2009). Effects of cocaine on honey bee dance behaviour Journal of Experimental Biology, 212 (2), 163-168 DOI: 10.1242/jeb.025361

9 comments:

Susan Och said...

I think the addictive side effect has worked well for the coca plant, since it now has large tribes of humans dedicated to its propagation and cultivation.

daedalus2u said...

I think the idea is to induce addiction so the insects eat enough that they don't leave any descendents. That way the insects don’t evolve resistance.

Inducing bravado and impairing muscle coordination makes them more susceptible to predators.

Dave Barrett said...

Quite interesting I must say....I'm really wondering how they managed to convince the authorities that this was a study worth pursuing, and it will be interesting to see where it ends up going!

Mona Albano said...

Simple: try it on spiders. Or preying mantids. Or octopods.

That Rascal said...

That really was interesting... I like your blog, it's pretty informative!

Thanks for your kind words about my painting! I hope you have a wonderful New Year!

Mason Posner said...

A similar study has already been done with spiders. See:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHzdsFiBbFc

Christie Lynn said...

daedalus2u - have you ever read the Botany of Desire by Michael Pollen? I think you might like his section on Marijuana...

T-REX said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
T-REX said...

I wonder what marijuana will do to the bees ..do bees have right and left neocortex..do they have any neo cortex for that matter?