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Boffin makes bee-line to see how bees fight infection

PUBLISHED: 23:29 17 November 2008 | UPDATED: 13:46 05 October 2010

BUMBLE bees are fast learners able to fight off infection, according to leading scientists in East London. The boffins have been testing the learning ability and immune responses of the humble bumblebee in experiments carried out at the London University’s Queen Mary College at Mile End

BUMBLE bees are fast learners able to fight off infection, according to leading scientists in East London.

The boffins have been testing the learning ability and immune responses of the humble bumblebee in experiments carried out at the London University’s Queen Mary College at Mile End.

They tested 180 bees and discovered that they know yellow flowers provide the biggest nectar rewards—and to ignore blue flowers.

They also tested their immune response against bacterial infection in experiments to see what makes them tick in the evolution between learning and immunity.

Dr Nigel Raine, from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Science, reports in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters journal: “Bees from fast-learning colonies are not only the best nectar collectors, but also better able to fight infections.

“These colonies are probably much better equipped to thrive under difficult conditions.”

Like humans, bees’ ability to learn appears reduced when they are ill, he found.

But the sting in the tail was that this did not affect the bees’ learning performance as previous studies had predicted.

“Once again, the humble bee is proving more complex than most people thought,” added Dr Raine.

His research is published in Biology Letters on November 29.

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