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Biological Sciences: Pesticides take the buzz out of honeybees

Nature Communications

March 28, 2013

Some pesticides can cause neuronal dysfunction in the honeybee brain when at environmentally relevant concentrations. This finding reported in Nature Communications provides an underlying cellular mechanism for the observed disruption and altered foraging behaviour in bees.

Pesticides have proven to be very effective in helping to maintain crop yields. However, their use has been implicated in the decline of many insect species. Neonicotinoids and organophosphates are two types of pesticides that have been shown to affect neurotransmission in the central nervous systems of insects. Bees provide essential pollination for food production, but the effects of these pesticides on bees specifically is unclear. Christopher Connolly and colleagues obtain whole cell recordings from neurons in the honeybee brain and find that two widely used pesticides, imidacloprid and clothianidin, impair neuron excitability by activating nicotinic receptors.

The authors conclude that this mechanism explains the cognitive impairment and subsequent decline of bees shown after exposure to specific pesticides. They hope that these findings will lead to improved pest control strategies that are more selective for target species.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms2648

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