from the world's big
Study finds that a colony's exposure to pesticides impairs offspring.
- Pesticide contamination in bee hives damages the learning capabilities of offspring, according to a recently published study.
- A key area of the affected bees' brains never correctly develops after pesticide exposure.
- Early impairment appears to be irreversible and is likely a factor in falling bee populations.
Broken learning<p>The study involved introducing neonicotinoids to the nectar consumed by members of 22 <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombus_terrestris" target="_blank"><em>Bombus terrestris audax</em></a> (buff-tailed honeybee) colonies. The learning abilities of their offspring were then measured against a control group of young bees from colonies whose food supply had not been contaminated.</p><p>The test assessed the extent to which a bee could learn to associate a specific smell with a reward, which was a sucrose solution. The bees from the neonicotinoid colony consistently fared more poorly than the control population.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg2ODE5Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MTAyMzQzMn0.zxOo04Cq-7q4ClAydA0kLAwFMpj84Nr25DIVtR3EzAE/img.jpg?width=980" id="4967e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ba7b1c09f2daa90d686e7ee93ad0138a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="a bumblebee on a purple flower" />
Image source: Mr. Meijer/Shutterstock
Tiny computed micrography (CT) scans<p>In hopes of identifying a structural explanation, the researchers stained the brain cells of 100 bees from the exposed colonies and took non-invasive <a href="https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/171050/bee-brains-have-never-seen-them/" target="_blank">micro-CT</a> scans in a machine similar — albeit smaller — to those in which humans are medically imaged.</p><p>The researchers discovered a clear difference in brains of the young bees from pesticide-exposed colonies. A key brain area, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mushroom_bodies" target="_blank">mushroom body</a>, was found to be much smaller in these bees' brains than it was in those from control colonies. This makes sense, since this region is believed to be involved in olfactory learning and memory.</p><p>The tests and scans were performed three days after pupal hatching and again after 12 days. The substandard learning capabilities and mushroom body sizes had not been resolved by the second test, indicating to the researchers that the damage caused by the neonicotinoids was irreversible.</p><p>(A honeybee's <a href="https://sciencing.com/life-span-honey-bee-6573678.html" target="_blank">life expectancy</a> depends on its role. Drones live roughly 8 weeks, while sterile workers live for about 6 weeks in the summer or 5 months in the winter. A queen can live for a few years.)</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg2ODIwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxODYyNDExNn0.oejYHpeBD1HdgT3ttnSOLyjBIMFcQ1GDYOv1UIl5s_Q/img.jpg?width=980" id="ace39" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dfecbbebdef8988fd1c297e88ee1a7b5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Scans of the mushroom body area of the bees' brains" />
Several views of the mushroom body
Image source: Gill, et al
Why this matters<p>The study's conclusion does not say definitively that the mushroom area is the only brain region impacted by pesticides. However, a smaller mushroom area is significant, explaining, as it does, the mechanism by which a bee's learning abilities and behavior may be impaired over the course of its life.</p><p>Gill says in a <a href="https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/195793/pesticides-impair-baby-brain-development/" target="_blank">press release</a>, "Worryingly in this case, when young bees are fed on pesticide-contaminated food, this caused parts of the brain to grow less, leading to older adult bees possessing smaller and functionally impaired brains; an effect that appeared to be permanent and irreversible."</p><p>In fact, after the young bees were returned to their colonies, researchers saw lower-than-expected colony growth two to three weeks after the subjects' reintroduction.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"If future generations of workers are predisposed to be inefficient functioning cohorts, this could lead to a density-dependent build-up of colony-level impairment increasing the risk of colony collapse." — Gill, et al </em></p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg2ODIwNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMTUxMDAyN30.jOBiSfYKhVGP0nYZf-oWGEFqeCqL7AFwirgMDGpnDzc/img.jpg?width=980" id="f916f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="93579968ab98750c4a8b349ef692a14f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Illustration of Bombus terrestris audax bee" />
Illustration of *Bombus terrestris audax*
Image source: Duda Vasilii/Shutterstock
And then there’s the adult bees<p>In addition to the problems caused by the behavior of bees hatched with pesticide damage, it's not as if pesticide exposure necessarily abates later on. As lead author of the study <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Dylan_Smith8" target="_blank">Dylan Smith</a> explains, "There has been growing evidence that pesticides can build up inside bee colonies. Our study reveals the risks to individuals being reared in such an environment, and that a colony's future workforce can be affected weeks after they are first exposed."</p><p>The study concludes that simply looking at the damaging effect of pesticide on adult bee population misses a significant, and more far-reaching, part of the story:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"Bees' direct exposure to pesticides through residues on flowers should not be the only consideration when determining potential harm to the colony. The amount of pesticide residue present inside colonies following exposure appears to be an important measure for assessing the impact on a colony's health in the future. " — Gill, et al</em></p>
2018's winter was particularly harsh on U.S. honeybees. What's causing bee populations to plummet, and what can we do about it?
- Since 2006, the Bee Informed Partnership has conducted a survey on U.S. beekeepers. The most recent survey shows that the 2018 winter resulted in the biggest die-off since the survey began, with a loss of 37.7 percent.
- This die-off is part of a larger trend. Bee populations have been falling for decades.
- The reasons why are multifaceted and compound on one another.
What's killing the bees?<p>This particular winter die-off is part of a much larger trend; honeybee populations have been in a <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6229/1255957" target="_blank">major decline</a> for the last 50 years. There are a variety of reasons, each of which interacts with and compounds each other.</p><p>First, bee habitats are disappearing or changing profoundly. Many wild bees are <a href="https://time.com/3951339/bees-climate-change/" target="_blank">losing</a> their habitats, but managed bee colonies are also made to live in habitats that aren't ideally suited to healthy bee populations. Many managed colonies exist on farmland or are brought to farmland to assist in pollination. As a result, honeybees feed on the pollen and nectar from just one or two kinds of plants. Biologist <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6229/1255957" target="_blank">Dave Goulson</a> and colleagues explained the impact of this in a research paper: </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If a human were to consume nothing but sardines one month, chocolate the next, turnips the month after, and so on, one could reasonably expect that person to fall ill. This may seem a frivolous example, but it is a reasonable parallel to the experience of some honey bee colonies, particularly those in North America that are transported back and forth across the continent each year to provide pollination for major crops such as almonds in California, blueberries in Maine, and citrus in Florida."</p>
What can we do to preserve bee populations?<p>Fortunately, there's plenty of ways we can strengthen bees' resilience to these challenges. For one, we can plant bee-friendly plants, such as Minnesota is encouraging its residents to do, or plant semi-natural flower fields around farmland. We can also reduce our reliance on pesticides by implementing <a href="https://extension.psu.edu/integrated-pest-management-ipm-tactics" target="_blank">integrated pest management practices</a>, or IPM. IPM considers the use of pesticides as a last resort and acknowledges that the complete eradication of pests is not feasible nor worth the effort. </p><p>Finally, stricter shipping policies can help prevent the introduction of harmful parasites like <em>V. destructor</em> to bee populations with no resistance. There's plenty of actions we can take to help bolster bee populations. But if we don't take action, the 2018 winter won't be the worst one for U.S. bee colonies.</p>
The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.
- U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
- A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
- Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.
What are you drinking?<p> The only drink tested that contained no glyphosate was Peak Beer Organic IPA. The comestible with the highest amount of glyphosate? Sutter Home Merlot. The 19 are shown below with the parts per billion (ppb) of glyphosate they contained.</p><p><strong>Beers</strong></p> <ul> <li>Tsingtao Beer: 49.7 ppb</li> <li>Coors Light: 31.1 ppb</li> <li>Miller Lite: 29.8 ppb</li> <li>Budweiser: 27.0 ppb</li> <li>Corona Extra: 25.1 ppb</li> <li>Heineken: 20.9 ppb</li> <li>Guinness Draught: 20.3 ppb</li> <li>Stella Artois: 18.7 ppb</li> <li>Ace Perry Hard Cider: 14.5 ppb</li> <li>Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: 11.8 ppb</li> <li>New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale: 11.2 ppb</li> <li>Sam Adams New England IPA: 11.0 ppb</li> <li>Stella Artois Cidre: 9.1 ppb</li> <li>Samuel Smith's Organic Lager: 5.7 ppb</li> </ul> <p><strong>Wines</strong></p> <ul> <li>Sutter Home Merlot: 51.4 ppb</li> <li>Beringer Founders Estates Moscato: 42.6 ppb</li> <li>Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon: 36.3 ppb</li> <li>Inkarri Malbec, Certified Organic: 5.3 ppb</li> <li>Frey Organic Natural White: 4.8 ppb</li> </ul> <p>Should such small amounts be of concern? Maybe. The report says:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"While these levels of glyphosate are below EPA risk tolerances for beverages, it is possible that even low levels of glyphosate can be problematic. For example, in one study, scientists found that 1 part per trillion of glyphosate has the potential to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells and disrupt the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300483X09003047" target="_blank">endocrine system</a>."</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTI0MjEyMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDEwNzQwOH0.ttSSvL4BgxS2cuQCw15h51V2ECSawaDqYsuaqMwXOXU/img.jpg?width=980" id="d5aa0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0f9036fe32c0246b10420de4f79924eb" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Roundup on trial<p>The EPA <a href="https://www.ewg.org/research/california-proposes-safe-level-roundup-more-100-times-lower-epa-limit/californias-proposed" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">says</a> glyphosate is safe up to 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, and Bayer, who now owns Monsanto, claims that its safety for consumption by humans has been proven by years of research. However, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, among many others, disagrees, and <a href="https://monographs.iarc.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/mono112-10.pdf" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">considers</a> glyphosate a potential human carcinogen. In addition, a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1383574218300887" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">new study</a> finds that people exposed to glyphosate are 41 percent more likely to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. France has banned Roundup's use, and other European nations are said to be considering their own bans on the weedkiller.</p><p>There's also a trial underway in federal court in San Francisco that consolidates 760 of the <a href="https://www.consumersafety.org/legal/roundup-lawsuit/" target="_blank">U.S.'s 9,300 Roundup cases into a single suit</a> against Bayer by Edwin Hardeman, a California resident. It's viewed as a test case.</p><p>Hardeman is currently in remission from non-Hodgkin's after having used Roundup extensively beginning in the 1980s to control poison oak and weeds on his property. He was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 66 in 2015. Bayer asserts that Hardeman has other conditions — his age and history of Hepatitis C — that more likely led to his illness; in any event, their lawyers say, non-Hodgkin's is often <a href="https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/idiopathic" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">idiopathic</a> anyway.</p><p>The judge has divided the case into two phases. In the first, jurors are to determine whether Roundup caused Hardeman's illness based on scientific evidence presented in court. Unfortunately, the jurors are not scientists, and one may wonder just how reasonable an endeavor this really is — it's likely to come down to the persuasiveness of evidence that's inevitably cherry-picked by the opposing legal teams to support their case.</p><p>If the jurors find Roundup <em>is</em> the illness's cause, a second phase can commence to assess responsibility. The plaintiffs have called this bifurcation "<a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bayer-glyphosate-lawsuit/bayer-faces-second-trial-over-alleged-roundup-cancer-risk-idUSKCN1QD0I8" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">unfair</a>," specifically because they believe their scientific evidence involves Monsanto's repression of research damaging to claims of glyphosate's safety, and the judge is not allowing any such supposedly off-topic submissions.</p><p>In <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-monsanto-cancer-lawsuit/monsanto-ordered-to-pay-289-million-in-worlds-first-roundup-cancer-trial-idUSKBN1KV2HB" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">August 2018</a>, a more conventional courtroom approach led to a finding that Monsanto was to blame for school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson's non-Hodgkin's lymphoma because they failed to warn its users of Roundup's potential risk as a cancer-causing product. That jury awarded Johnson $289 million in damages. The amount was later reduced to $78 million.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTI0MjEzOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDM5NDg2OH0.0M0v7cgUsAYRo4dpNAWWh64KLyostQbl5C8ILZjgyy8/img.jpg?width=980" id="395c8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2945e268bc89e834ce4fc52d40baa6a7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
There's enough Roundup sprayed every year to spray nearly half a pound of glyphosate on every cultivated acre of land in the world, says U.S. PIRG.
A little extra kick in your beverage<p>This isn't the first time glyphosate's been found to have made its way into adult beverages. In Germany in 2016, the Munich Environmental Institute <a href="https://www.globalresearch.ca/german-beer-industry-in-shock-over-glyphosate-contamination/5633850" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">found it</a> in every single sample they tested, including beers from independent brewers. A study in Latvia found the same thing. Using glyphosate directly on barley — beer's primary ingredient — is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/glyphosate-weed-killer-found-in-german-beers-study-finds/a-19072785" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">illegal</a> in Germany, so it's most likely that the soil in which the crop was grown had been previously exposed to Roundup.</p><p>It's unlikely nine laypeople in a San Francisco courtroom will definitely answer the question of glyphosate's safety. It's clear that questions surrounding this ubiquitous weedkiller remain, Bayer's assertions notwithstanding.</p><p>U.S. PIRG concludes its report with a recommendation:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Based on our findings, glyphosate is found in most beers and wine sold in the U.S. Due to glyphosate's many health risks and its ubiquitous nature in our food, water and alcohol, the use of glyphosate in the U.S. should be banned unless and until it can be proven safe."</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTI0MjE1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MDcxOTI4N30.aOqFFRdw3v3L2mC8MsHi6TEgLXUEF4bPgubFjRT7mxo/img.jpg?width=980" id="0e3b5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4cbb7e7e58879211414ad961f06d6177" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A buzzworthy study looks at the strange actions of bees.
- Scientists recorded the activities of bees during the 2017 total solar eclipse.
- They found that bees completely stopped flying and buzzing.
- A team of professional and citizen scientists was involved.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes a species of bumble bee – the rusty patched bumble bee – should be under federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.