It is amazing how much animals can teach us. A group of scientists from Arizona State University found out that brains of older honey bees become young again when they are forced to become responsible for nursing babies, normally handled by younger bees. The old bees did not take any anti-aging drug, they reversed the aging process because they were given something important to do.
In a study published in the scientific journal Experimental Gerontology, scientists from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Arizona State found that tricking older bees into doing social tasks in the nest changed the molecular structure of their brains. They forced older bees to take new responsibilities by removing from the nest younger bees that are normally in charge of the larvae. Older bees showed increased ability to learn new things and stayed mentally alert and competent as long as scientists observed them.
The team of scientists and their leader professor Amdam not only saw that older bees recovered their ability to learn, but that they showed a change in proteins in their brains. Two proteins changed significantly, one of them the same protein also found in humans, believed to protect against dementia. Other protein “chaperone” protein protects other proteins from the damage caused by cell-level stress of brain or other tissues.
Medication or social intervention?
Dementia is serious, painful problem affecting large number of aging people. Scientists are currently placing their trust and the brunt of their research in finding new drugs that can prevent or treat aging and the deterioration of the brain. But, they believe to be about 30 years away from a viable solution. The bees are pointing them in a very different direction.
Professor Amdam believes that social interventions — changing how we deal with your world — could help our brains stay younger, without waiting 30 years. The proteins involved in bees are the same proteins we have. If they created instant, spontaneous change in bees, it is possible that they could do the same with us when we are exposed to specific social experience, such as added responsibility.
Throughout our history old people were revered and considered wise leaders of their tribes: they had responsibility, trust and respect. We put our old people in retirement homes, with nothing to do but wait to die. It seems that we need bees to tell us that something is wrong with that picture. The research clearly shows that people who are physically and mentally active and who engage their brains in constant learning stay mentally competent deep into their old age. As we are fond of saying “use it or lose it.”