An international group of researchers identified a new type of gut bacteria that improves memory in bees. Dubbed “Lactobacillus apis”, the strain of bacteria is associated to increased memory in bumblebees. Type of bacteria is linked to enhanced memory in bumblebees.
In a paper appearing in the publication Nature Communications, the team led by researchers at the Jiangnan University in China revealed that bumblebees that contain more of this type of bacteria in their guts have better memory than bees with fewer bacteria.
Furthermore, bees that consumed food containing this species of bacteria were also found to have improved memory compared to bees with regular diets.
“Our results suggest not only that the natural variation in the amount of a specific gut bacterium affects memory, but also show a causal link—that by adding the same bacterial species to a bee’s diet can enhance their memories,” Li Li, lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at Jiangnan University, said in a press release.
Researchers developed nearly a dozen artificial flavours using unique colours to test the bees’ memory. Half of these artificial flavours were made with sweet sucrose solution, while the other half with a quinine solution, that tasted bitter and repelled bees.
“This is a fascinating finding that could apply to humans as well as to bees. Our findings add to growing evidence of the importance of gut-brain interactions in animals and provide insights into the cause of cognitive differences in natural bumblebee populations,” Lars Chittka, co-author of the paper and a researcher from Queen Mary University, said in a press release.
They then observed how the bees learned which colors contained which solution and if they were able to remember the information after three days.
Additionally, researchers sequenced the gut samples of the bees used in the experiment and co-related the data acquired from the experiment with the data acquired from the gut samples.
Furthermore, to confirm that the Lactobacillus apis bacteria was directly responsible for the improved memory observed in the bees, the researchers added the bacteria into the diet of other bees that didn’t previously exhibit long-lasting memory. They then measured their performance and found a significant improvement.
“Further investigation will be needed to determine if and which bacteria species might have the same effect in humans. But our work has shone a bright light on this possibility,” Li Li said.