New research on bees shows current safety tests of insecticides are inadequate - Buglife

Bumblebees on globe thistle © Dan TP
Bumblebees on globe thistle © Dan TP

Researchers have revealed unexpected variation in bee neural receptors, challenging current safety assessments of insecticides, which work by targeting these receptors.

Because bees use different versions of this receptor in different tissues and across species, it may be impossible to accurately predict the impacts of insecticide exposure on bees.

Farmers use insecticides to protect plant crops from being eaten by pests. Unfortunately, although many commonly used insecticides were initially thought to be safe, they can also harm wild bees and other beneficial pollinators.

A new study by researchers from Queen Mary University of London, published in Molecular Ecology, uncovers the molecular mechanism that explains why measuring and evaluating the effects of the insecticides is so difficult using the current assessment practices.

The most commonly used insecticides, which include neonicotinoids and their potential replacements, target a neural receptor that is present in all animals. The idea that bees might have different versions of this receptor had not yet been considered in insecticide safety evaluations. Also, it was unclear to what extend bees use these receptors outside the brain.

The researchers used high-resolution molecular techniques to understand how the bodies of bumble bees and honey bees build the neural receptor targeted by insecticides. The researchers found that in different tissues, the receptor is made using different components.

There were also major differences between bees of different ages and between species. The effects on an insecticide depend on how the receptor is built. Thus, the diverse manners through which the receptors are built can explain why the insecticides have extremely diverse effects.

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Posted On: 18/01/2023

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