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Lactobacillus apis, gut bacteria found in bees, improves memory

In bumblebees, the gut microbiota influences individual memory.

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A team of scientists has discovered a sort of gut bacteria, known as Lactobacillus apis, in bees that improves memory.

The work, led by experts from Jiangnan University in China in partnership with researchers from Queen Mary University of London and the University of Oulu in Finland, found that Lactobacillus apis, a type of gut bacteria, is associated to improved memory in bumblebees.

Bumblebees with more of this sort of bacteria in their intestines have a stronger memory than those with fewer germs, according to the researchers. Bumblebees who ate food containing more of this species of gut bacteria also had longer-lasting memories than those who ate conventional diets.

The researchers built different colored imitation flowers to test the bees’ memory and learning capacities; five colors were paired with a sweet sucrose solution and the other five with a bitter tasting solution containing quinine, a bee repellant. The researchers then tested how quickly the bees learned which colors were associated with a sugar reward, as well as whether they were able to remember this information in a three-day follow-up test. They were able to compare individual differences in bumblebee learning and memory abilities with the quantities of different bacteria present in their gut by sequencing gut samples from the bees.

As the last step in confirming that the amount of Lactobacillus apis bacteria in the gut was directly responsible for the observed differences in memory, researchers supplemented the bumblebees’ diet with the bacteria before measuring their reactions to the identical memory task.

Several studies, including this one published in the journal Nature Communications, have shown that our gut microbiome, which is made up of millions of microorganisms that dwell in our digestive tract, can influence animal behavior.

Individual differences in bees’ cognitive capacities exist, and they have a tiny community of gut microorganisms when compared to mammals, making them good models for investigating the function of certain gut bacteria in differences in cognition across individuals.

According to the researchers, observed variations in the microbiome across individual bumblebees could be caused by variances or changes in the nest habitat, activities, infections, social interactions, and pollination environment. They also suggest that

“Our results suggest not only that the natural variation in the amount of a specific gut bacterium effects memory, but also show a causal link – that by adding the same bacterial species to a bee’s diet can enhance their memories,” said Dr Li Li, lead author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at Jiangnan University.

“Further research will be required 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.”

According to Professor Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London, who was also a co-author of the study, “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.”

According to Professor Wei Zhao, corresponding author and head of the Enzymology lab at Jiangnan University in China: “It’s amazing to find out the specific memory-enhancing bacteria species. The results further validate our belief that we may improve our cognitive ability via the regulation of gut microbiota.”

Source: 10.1038/s41467-021-26833-4

Image Credit: iStock

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