Researchers at the University of Nottingham say their work has proved exposure to one insecticide in a class known as neonicotinoids causes changes to the genes of the honeybee.
A very low exposure -- two parts per billion -- to the insecticide imidacloprid causes cells of honeybee larvae to work harder and increase the activity of genes involved in breaking down toxins, most likely to cope with the insecticide, they said.
"Although larvae can still grow and develop in the presence of imidacloprid, the stability of the developmental process appears to be compromised," bioscientist Reinhard Stoger said in a Nottingham release Wednesday.
"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," he said.
The European Commission has issued a temporary ban on three types of neonicotinoids amid concerns they could be linked to deaths in honeybee populations that pollinate one-third of the food we eat.