Hormesis: Small Amounts of Toxic substances Help Bees Fight off Infections, According to Study

Bees just like humans are prone to parasitic infection and other animals for that matter.

There’s a concept in the field of toxicology called “hormesis” which explains that some toxic substances which are indeed helpful according to the scientists from the University of Massachusetts and Darmouth College published in Proceedings ion Royal Society B.

The researchers made an analytical study of the relationship between the plants, the bee as pollinators and the parasites. Y discovered that bumble bees that imbibe organic toxins from nectar, which contains caffeine and n9ocotine, were more resistant to Crithidia bombi, a common parasite found in the intestine.

“We found that eating some of these compounds reduced pathogen load in the bumblebee’s gut, which not only may help the individual bees, but likely reduced pathogen Critidia spore load in their feces, which in turn lead to a lower likelihood of transmitting the disease to other bees,” Lynn Adler said, one of the co-authors. “Because plants just sit there and can’t run away from things that want to eat them, they have evolved to be to be amazing chemists. They make biological compounds called secondary metabolites, which are chemicals which are not involved in growth or reproduction, to protect themselves.  They are amazing in the diversity of what they can produce for protecting themselves of for protecting pollinators.

“The results may have implications for growers who depends on pollinators, who may want to think about planting pollinator friendly hedgerows and gardens containing plants that produce natural herbal remedies for some of the most common parasites that ails bees and other pollinating insects.”

“The more we look the more we see that these compounds are in nectar and pollen too,” Adler said. “With so many people looking at bee health these days, it’s taken a long time for us to realize that perhaps we should be paying attention to how floral secondary compounds mediate pollinator dynamics and their interaction with pathogens.”

Adler and colleagues analyzed eight chemicals which include nicotine and anabasine inherent in nectar of flowers in the tobacco family, caffeine found in coffee and citrus nectar, amyldadine which are naturally occurring from the almond nectar, aucubin and catalpol courtesy of of turtleheads, gallic acid from buckwheat flowers, and last but not the least, thymol originating from the flowers of basswood trees.

A commercial preparation of thymol found in thyme plants is already available for use in treating against mite infestations.

“Our novel results highlight that secondary metabolites in floral nectar may play a vital role in reducing bee-parasite interactions,” said senior author Professor Rebecca  Irwin of Darmouth.



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