Sky's the limit for bee brain power

Mar 05, 2008
Bee

Families flocked to see the latest animated hit Bee Movie, but scientists from UQ's Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) have long embraced the bee for very different reasons.

Bees have a brain the size of a sesame seed but they are proving to be a model species to study for their smart ‘minds', their amazing capacity to learn and remember things and for their astute sense of smell and vision.

“Bees are the Rolls Royce of the insect world due to their amazing brain,” Dr Charles Claudianos from QBI's Visual and Sensory Neuroscience Group said.

The group is studying how the bee's brain works and how bees behave, fly, navigate, see and smell.

They have discovered that bees use only a handful of key compounds to discern between floral scents, which, like a perfume, can contain more than 100 different odorants.

QBI Senior Research Fellow Dr Judith Reinhard said bees' ‘noses' were their antennae which carried countless odour receptors to detect even the smallest scent molecule in the air.

Dr Reinhard said a bees' sense of smell was so precise that it could distinguish between hundreds of different aromas and also tell whether a flower carried pollen or nectar, by sniffing its scent from metres away.

The UQ team is working with the CSIRO to uncover how insects, such as the honeybee, learn and process scents to develop more sensitive electronic noses.

Electronic noses have been used for many years in industries such as wine, fragrances, food and beverages, pest control and animal production.

Scientists from the 17-strong UQ group led by Professor Mandyam Srinivasan, have proved that bees and humans share up to 30 percent of the same genes, including many genes involved in brain function.

QBI Senior Research Fellow Dr Claudianos has found the same molecules that cause autism in humans are also involved with memory formation in bees.

Dr Claudianos said the bee brain was quite sophisticated for its size, but that it needed constant sensory input and stimulation to develop properly – similar to the human brain.

The research group is continuing to test and apply bee technology to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which, like bees, can navigate and control their speed based on the how quickly the vehicle passes objects on the fly.

There are many species of bees in the world, but the UQ group is studying the common honey bee from Europe.

They keep several bee hives at UQ St Lucia for their research, with between 10,000 and 20,000 bees in each.

Did you know?

• Bees have lived on our planet for about 25 million years
• Bee brains are oval, about 20 times bigger than the brain of a fruit fly
• Most bees live for six weeks, but the queen can live for years
• Worker bees are females and do all the work for the hive
• Male bees are called drones and are merely “flying sperm”. They attract the queen to their bachelor
hangouts where she mates and then returns to the hive to lay her eggs
• Bees have their own language which uses a vocabulary of different dances
• Bees usually die after stinging a mammal, but not after stinging other insects
• Bees' legs have knees, ankles and feet
• Bees try and fly at a constant speed of about 7-8 kmh, even against headwinds
• Bees can fly in light rain, but have problems in heavy rain
• Bees must visit thousands of flowers to produce just a kilogram of honey

Source: University of Queensland

Explore further: Diabetes drug found in freshwater is a potential cause of intersex fish

Related Stories

Ears, grips and fists take on mobile phone user ID

16 hours ago

A research project has been under way to explore a biometric authentication system dubbed Bodyprint, with interesting test results. Bodyprint has been designed to detect users' biometric features using the ...

More than 2,200 confirmed dead in Nepal earthquake

16 hours ago

A powerful aftershock shook Nepal on Sunday, making buildings sway and sending panicked Kathmandu residents running into the streets a day after a massive earthquake left more than 2,200 people dead.

Nepal quake: Nearly 1,400 dead, Everest shaken (Update)

Apr 25, 2015

Tens of thousands of people were spending the night in the open under a chilly and thunderous sky after a powerful earthquake devastated Nepal on Saturday, killing nearly 1,400, collapsing modern houses and ...

Recommended for you

Two new iguanid lizard species from the Laja Lagoon, Chile

14 minutes ago

A team of Chilean scientists discover two new species of iguanid lizards from the Laja Lagoon, Chile. The two new species are believed to have been long confused with other representatives of the elongatus-kriegi ...

New 3-D method improves the study of proteins

54 minutes ago

Researchers have developed a new computational method called AGGRESCAN3D which will allow studying the 3D structure of folded globular proteins and substantially improve the prediction of any propensity for ...

ANZAC grevillea hybrid marks centenary celebrations

1 hour ago

Through an intense breeding program of native flora, Kings Park botanists have provided the Western Australian RSL with a commemorative grevillea (Proteaceae) in time for the Anzac Centenary.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.