Study: Caffeine 'buzz' gives bees memory boost, can it help people?

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Most of us get a buzz from that morning cup of coffee, and it turns out bees get a kick from caffeine too.

Scientists from Arizona State University and the UK found in a 7-year study that caffeine improves the long-term memory of bees.

“We discovered that a lot of plants have caffeine in their nectar,” said ASU research professor Julie Mustard, “It’s in coffee and tea plants like you might expect, but it’s also in citrus plants. “
Mustard and other scientists compared bees that had consumed caffeine and those who had not. The bees that had caffeine were three times more likely to remember the scent of the flower they got the caffeine from.
“Even three days after they learned that odor was associated with caffeine, they remembered twice as well as bees that just had sugar alone,” said Mustard.
“We would look at a bee brain and a human brain and think they’re pretty different based on what they look like, but when we look on the level of genes and proteins, they actually work in a very similar way,” Mustard said, “The proteins in the genes involved in this process in honey bees are the same ones that people think are involved in helping memory in people.”
The results of this study could also eventually have an impact on research for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The bees in the study were older, because it is older bees that leave the hive to forage for the plant nectar that contains caffeine.
“Since we see this result from caffeine in older bees, maybe we would see this in older humans,” said Mustard, “Maybe we can use that information to forge therapies for people with dementia and Alzheimer's.”
Mustard stressed that any potential link between caffeine and memory in human beings has not been proven by this study alone, and more research is needed.
There was one negative side-effect of caffeine consumption for bees. Mustard said the amount of caffeine naturally occurring in plants is equivalent to what people would get in a cup of coffee. The trouble came when bees consumed more than what was naturally occurring.
“If you give them high concentrations, much higher than what we found in plants, it did appear to be toxic and reduce their life span.”