Scanning a bee’s brain to see how it learns

12 OCTOBER 2016

Combining his profession in medical imaging with a passion for apiary, CSU scientist Dr Mark Greco is examining bees' brains to understand how they respond to environmental change.

Combining his profession in medical imaging with a passion for apiary, Charles Sturt University (CSU) scientist Dr Mark Greco is examining bees' brains to understand how they respond to environmental change.

A senior lecturer in medical imaging at CSU's School of Dentistry and Health Sciences in Wagga Wagga, Dr Greco said, "Approximately one third of our human diet comes from food that relies on pollination by bees.

"Across the world bees are in decline and it's important for us to understand more about how they are affected by the changes to our environment, both the natural changes and those brought about by human influence.

"My research is examining how bees learn things, how they remember things and how they find their way back to the hive."

The research involves placing bee hives at one end of a greenhouse with feeding stations at the other end.

Dr Greco said adding pollutants (chemicals) to their food source can have an effect on how the bees forage and how they find their way back to the hive.

"When you add various chemicals to the food it actually affects the bees' memory and so it influences the time it takes them to get back to the hive because they forget the landmarks they have memorised on the way to the feeder," Dr Greco said.

Dr Greco is using x-ray computerised tomography, a CT scanner, which means his experiments are non-invasive and he can track changes in the brains of bees over time.

"I'll be scanning the live bees using a technique called micro CT and then using a special software program to look at three dimensional images of different sections of the brain to search for any changes within them," Dr Greco said.

"Specifically I'm looking at any volume changes that might occur in the brain of the bees. For example looking at the optic or antennal lobes to see if there's any change in volume when the bees are struggling to find their way back to the hive."

Dr Greco has recently received a grant of $120 000 from the Eva Crane Trust. The trust helps support researchers who have an interest in developing new technologies to save the bees of the world.

Media Note:

Dr Mark Greco is in the School of Dentistry and Health Sciences at CSU in Wagga Wagga. Read more about his research here.

Media are invited to interview Dr Greco and get footage of his research at the glasshouses or the CT scanner at CSU in Wagga Wagga from 11am on Thursday 13 October. To attend, contact CSU Media.

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Wagga Wagga Animal and Veterinary science Charles Sturt University Research Dentistry Science