Insecticide alters honeybee genes

U. NOTTINGHAM (UK) — Even very low exposure to neonicotinoid insecticide causes genetic changes in honeybees.

New research, published in PLOS ONE, supports the recent decision taken by the European Commission to temporarily ban three neonicotinoid insecticides amid concerns that they could be linked to bee deaths.

There is growing evidence connecting insecticides to the the decline in the honeybee population that pollinates one-third of the food that we eat. But this is the first comprehensive study to look at changes in the activity of honeybee genes linked to imidacloprid, one of the recently banned neonicotinoids.


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The study was conducted under field realistic conditions and showed that a very low exposure of just two parts per billion has an effect on the activity of some of the honeybee genes.

The cells of honeybee larvae had to work harder and increase the activity of genes involved in breaking down toxins, most likely to cope with the insecticide. Genes involved in regulating energy to run cells were also affected.

Such changes are known to reduce the lifespan of the most widely studied insect, the common fruit fly, and lower a larva’s probability of surviving to adulthood.

“Although larvae can still grow and develop in the presence of imidacloprid, the stability of the developmental process appears to be compromised,” says Reinhard Stöger, associate professor in epigenetics at the University of Nottingham.

“Should the bees be exposed to additional stresses such as pests, disease ,and bad weather then it is likely to increase the rate of development failure.”

The Co-operative Group funded the study as part of its Plan Bee campaign.

Source: University of Nottingham