Study: Nicotine-like chemical in pesticide may be turning bees into junkies


Another interesting study, this one from Newcastle University and scientists in Sweden and published in Nature, suggest that a chemical in pesticides which has chemical similarities to nicotine is killing bees.

These chemicals, called neonicotinoids, have molecular similarities to nicotine, which is generally considered one of the most addictive substances on the planet … if not the most addictive substance on the planet. According to this article from the Guardian:

Scientists suggested the chemicals, which have a similar molecular structure to nicotine, may be affecting the reward centres in bee’s brain in the same way humans are affected by cigarettes.

Professor Geraldine Wright, who led the study, said that the addictive effect was not something they had tested for and was only a hypothesis.

“Like nicotine they are essentially amplifying the rewarding properties of the sucrose solution that they are located in and the bees think its more rewarding so they go back to that food tube to drink more of it,” she said. Previous studies have showed rat’s brain responding to neonicotinoid in this way.

Connolly said: “It will be interesting to see if insects become addicted to neonicotinoids over time as humans become addicted to nicotine. Given that the neonicotinoids are commonly found in our farmed environment at these levels, this may have already occurred.”

It’s no secret that bee populations have been declining and pesticides are the biggest suspect for that. Some of these pesticides have already been banned in Europe and they could be banned in the U.S. Perhaps because the bees become addicted to the neonicotinoid chemicals, they are more attracted to nectar that has been sprayed with it.

According to the Nature article:

Christopher Connolly, who studies human and bee neuroscience at the University of Dundee, UK, and has published work6 showing that neonicotinoids interfere with neuron function in bumblebees, says that he was already convinced that the pesticides are bad for bees. Now, “the questions need to move to a different level”, to elucidate the mechanisms.

Of course, to absolutely no one’s surprise, representatives of pesticide companies say the study is bogus. From the Guardian story:

Nick von Westenholz, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association that represents neonicotinoid producers Bayer and Syngenta, said: “The latest studies in Nature must be seen in the context of an ongoing campaign to discredit neonicotinoid pesticides, regardless of what the real evidence shows.”

He said Rundlöf’s results were questionable as the levels of the pesticide found in pollen on the bees was higher than in previous studies , suggesting that Rundlöf had treated the crops herself rather than using industry-standard seeds.

“Bayer CropScience is pleased the Swedish study demonstrates yet again there is no effect of neonicotinoids on honeybee colonies in realistic field conditions, consistent with previous published field studies,” said a spokesman for the agrochemical giant. But it criticised the methodology of Rundlöf’s experiment and said the study offered no proof of increased bee deaths.

So, nicotine-like chemicals are not only incredibly addictive for humans, but according to these studies, apparently for bees, too.