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Wednesday 25 April 2018
25 April 2018 - NEWS UPDATE

Exposure to banned pesticide causes change in honey bee genes

New research funded by the Cooperative Group shows that exposure to neonicotinoid insecticide causes changes in honey bee genes.


The honey bee

The study published today further supports the recent decision taken by the European Commission to temporarily ban three of the neonicotinoid pesticides.

There is a growing evidence base connecting the decline in the honey bee population, that pollinates a third of the food we eat, and pesticides, but this is the first comprehensive study to look at changes in the activity of honeybee genes linked to exposure of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid.

Funded by The Co-operative Group, as part of its Plan Bee campaign, and conducted under field realistic conditions at the University of Nottingham, the research shows that a very low exposure of just two parts per billion has an impact on the activity of some genes.

The researchers identified that cells of honeybee bee larvae had to work harder and increase the activity of genes involved in breaking down toxins, most likely in order to cope with the insecticide.

Genes involved in regulating energy to run cells were also affected. Such changes are known to reduce the life span of the most widely studied insect, the common fruit fly, and lower a larvae's probability of surviving to adulthood.

Chris Shearlock, Sustainable Development Manager at The Co-operative, said: "This is very significant piece of research published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, which shows clear changes in honeybee gene activity as a result of exposure to a pesticide, which is currently in common use across the UK.

"As part of our Plan Bee campaigned launched in 2009 we have adopted a precautionary approach and prohibited the use of six neonicotinoid pesticides, including imidacloprid, on our own-brand fresh and frozen produce and have welcomed the recent approach by the European Commission to temporarily ban three neonicotinoid pesticides as this will allow for research into the impact on both pollinators and agricultural productivity."

Reinhard Stöger, Associate Professor in Epigenetics at the University of Nottingham, said: "Although larvae can still grow and develop in presence of imidacloprid, the stability of the developmental process appears to be compromised. Should the bees be exposed to additional stresses such as pests, disease and bad weather then it is likely to increase the rate of development failure."

The paper can be viewed at:

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