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Bees and Humans Share Love of Caffeine, Gives Them Memory Boost

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Mar 07, 2013 07:26 PM EST
Many plants and garden products marketed as "bee friendly" contain a substance deadly to bees and linked to colony collapse disorder, according to a new report, which calls for major U.S. retailers to stop carrying the products. (Photo : Flickr/ Moosealope)

Bees and humans share a love for something previously unimagined, caffeine.  Scientists said in a study released Thursday that bees get a caffeine boost from some naturally caffeine-laced plants which enhance their learning process and boosts their long-term memory.

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The flower nectar of citrus plants - including some varieties of grapefruit, lemon and oranges - contains caffeine, according to the study published in the journal Science. Researchers fed bees a sugar solution which was caffeinated nectar and found they were three times more likely to remember a flower's scent than bees which consumed the sugar alone. The caffeine buzz improved their memories, helping them to remember the location of the flower so they could come back for more of the caffeine-laced nectar.

"Remembering floral traits is difficult for bees to perform at a fast pace as they fly from flower to flower and we have found that caffeine helps the bee remember where the flowers are," study leader Geraldine Wright, a neuroethologist at Newcastle University, UK, said in a statement.

"In turn, bees that have fed on caffeine-laced nectar are laden with coffee pollen and these bees search for other coffee plants to find more nectar, leading to better pollination," Wright added.

The bees that were given sugar water with the caffeine were three times as likely to remember 24 hours where the floral scent came with from, compared to bees that were given the sugar water alone. After 72 hours, the caffeine-trained bees were twice as likely to remember the scent-reward connection.

What's the benefit of remembering the location of this caffeine tasting nectar? Wright says these bees may have an advantage over their pollinating competitors in terms of locating food.

Caffeine has been proven to keep us alert and attentive, but it has yet to be proven if there is any relation to a memory boost as in the case of the bees.

Studies on the effects of caffeine on military members have been conducted by researcher Harris Lieberman of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. During a Navy Seals training session, the members were stressed and sleep deprived, "including cold temperatures and demanding physical activities," said Lieberman.

"We found that in moderate doses, caffeine enhanced ability to pay attention, and it enhanced vigilance," says Lieberman.

And caffeine also seemed to improve the exhausted sailors' short-term memories, something Lieberman was not expecting to see. "We were surprised that caffeine had such widespread effects," he says.

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