Caffeine Helps Bees Remember

by Christopher Paul on March 9, 2013

Researchers figured out that plants whose nectar had caffeine in it made bees more likely to remember and return to them for pollination.

There was a small effect of caffeine on the rate of learning; bees that were given caffeine-laced nectar learned to associate the scent with the reward a bit faster than the bees that weren’t given caffeine. Where the researchers saw the biggest difference, however, was in the bees’ long-term memory. When given caffeine, bees were three times more likely to recall the association 24 hours after being trained, and twice as likely to remember it 72 hours later.

Probing a bit deeper, the researchers then turned to the question of how, exactly, caffeine enhanced the insects’ memories. Although bee and human brains are quite different in terms of structure, they function in many similar ways. A group of neurons in the bee brain called “Kenyon cells” are somewhat homologous to our hippocampal neurons, which play a role in associative learning. The researchers recorded activity from bees’ Kenyon cells, and found that caffeine increases these neurons’ excitability, making them more likely to fire in response to sensory stimuli. The more responsive these neurons are, the faster the bees’ brains can make the connection between the scent stimuli and the sweet reward.

via and Susan Orlean

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