Bees Shake Off Pesticides With Light Therapy

By SEAN DUFFY

(CN) – Treating bees with near-infrared light therapy can reduce or eliminate physiological issues produced by exposure to a deadly – and common – group of pesticides.

British researchers published their findings Tuesday after studying how near-infrared light therapy can counteract the damage produced by neonicotinoid pesticides, a widely used class of pesticides that are generally used to treat seeds rather than sprayed on crops. Despite popular usage, neonicotinoid pesticides have been connected to various health issues in animals, most notably bees.

Exposure to these pesticides can undermine mitochondrial function and limit the production of ATP, a high-energy molecule found in every cell that is considered the “energy currency of life.” Compromised production of ATP results in reduces the mobility of bees, which can lead to starvation since they cannot feed themselves.

“When a nerve cell is using more energy than other cells, or is challenged because of a lack of energy, red-light therapy can give it a boost by improving mitochondrial function. Essentially, it recharges the cell’s batteries,” said lead author Glen Jeffery.

The team studied four groups of bees from commercial hives with more than 400 bees in each colony. Two of the groups were exposed to Imidacloprid, a common type of neonicotinoid, for 10 days. One of the colonies exposed to Imidacloprid was also treated with light therapy, receiving 15 minutes of near-infrared light twice daily.

Bees poisoned by the pesticide but not treated with light therapy faced severe mobility issues, and their survival rate declined accordingly. However, the poisoned bees that received light therapy had much better mobility and higher survival rates, living just as long as the control group – the colony that wasn’t poisoned and wasn’t given light therapy.

“Neonicotinoid pesticides are a persistent threat to global bee populations, which play a critical role in agriculture,” Jeffery said. “My team is working to develop a small device that can be fitted into a commercial hive, which could be an economic solution to a problem with very widespread implications.”

One colony that wasn’t exposed to the poison – but was treated with light therapy – had a better survival rate than the control group.

“It’s beneficial even for bees that aren’t affected by pesticides, so light therapy can be an effective means of preventing loss of life in case a colony becomes exposed to neonicotinoids. It’s win-win,” Jefferey said.

The team also found that the deep red light did not impact the bees’ behavior since they cannot see it.

Researchers at the University College London have been studying the effects of near-infrared light therapy on other animals, including humans, focusing on how it reduces the symptoms of aging and a range of neurological diseases.