Neonicotinoid Insecticides Cause Changes To Honeybee Genes, Research Finds

Neonicotinoid insecticides cause significant changes to the genes of the honeybee, new research from the University of Nottingham has found.

Image Credit: Honeybee via Wikimedia Commons
Image Credit: Honeybee via Wikimedia Commons

The research has found that after honeybees were exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides — even at very low levels — that notable changes occurred in the activity of some of their genes — changes that were the result of the cells having to work hard to break down toxins. In particular, the cells of honeybee larvae were significantly affected. “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.”

The new research joins a growing body of evidence linking neonicotinoid insecticides to the rapid decline in honeybees that has been occurring over the past few decades. Something important to note — honeybees pollinate over a third of food that we eat, without them crop yields would fall dramatically.

The European Union actually very recently banned neonicotinoids, but the insecticides are still legal in the US and in many other regions. Previous research has linked neonicotinoid insecticides to developmental disorders in mammals — in particular, adversely affecting brain development in rats.

The new research was focused on imidacloprid, and was conducted “under field realistic conditions and showed that a very low exposure of just two parts per billion has an impact on the activity of some of the honeybee genes.”

Dr Reinhard Stöger, Associate Professor in Epigenetics in the University of Nottingham’s School of Biosciences, stated: “Although larvae can still grow and develop in the presence of imidacloprid, the stability of the developmental process appears to be compromised. 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.”

Chris Shearlock, Sustainable Development Manager at The Co-operative, stated: “This is a very significant piece of research, which clearly shows clear changes in honeybee gene activity as a result of exposure to a pesticide, which is currently in common use across the UK.”

“As part of our Plan Bee campaign launched in 2009 we have adopted a precautionary approach and prohibited the use of six neonicotinoid pesticides, including imidacloprid, on our own-brand fresh and frozen produce and have welcomed the recent approach by the European Commission to temporarily ban three neonicotinoid pesticides as this will allow for research into the impact on both pollinators and agricultural productivity.”

The new research was just published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

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