Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Studying bumblebees to learn more about human intelligence and memory

October 4, 2017 by Bob Yirka 

(—A team of researchers at Queen Mary University in the U.K. has found that bumblebees with more "synaptic complexes" in their brains are able to learn new things more quickly and also have better memories than those with fewer of them. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B the group describes studying neural connections in individual bee brains and comparing what they found with cognitive abilities.

Scientists have developed a variety of methods over the years to measure human intelligence levels, but have made little progress in understanding what underlies the differences they find. In this new effort, the researchers studied bumblebee brains because they are far simpler than human brains.

In their experiments, the researchers taught several bumblebees to discriminate between two different types of fake flowers—one type provided sugar water while the other offered quinine, which bees do not like. The team noted how long it took the individual bees to figure out which type of flower would offer a reward and which would not. The group then tested all of the bees two days later to see how well they remembered what they had learned, again taking note of how well the individual bees did on the test.

The team then looked closely at the brains of all of the bees using confocal microscopy, which allowed for viewing nerve cells and the connections between them. The team reports that those bees that figured out the flower problem the fastest and had the best memory turned out to have denser neural connections called synaptic complexes than those who performed less well.

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