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Light therapy can protect bees from pesticide poisoning

"Long-wavelength light treatments have been shown in other studies to reduce mitochondrial degeneration which results from aging processes," said researcher Glen Jeffery.

By Brooks Hays
Light therapy can protect bees from pesticide poisoning
Light therapy protects bees from the harms of pesticide exposure, new research shows. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

LONDON, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Light therapy offers protection to honey bees exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides, according to new research from University College London.

In a new study, scientists at UCL studied the effects of pesticides and light therapy on commercial honey bee hives. Two of the four studied hives were exposed to a neonicotinoid pesticide called Imidacloprid for 10 days. One of the two exposed haves were also treated with twice-daily 15-minute doses of near infrared light.

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Previous research has proven pesticide exposure undermines honey bees' ability to produce ATP, the energy necessary for healthy cellular function.

In the experiments, pesticide-poisoned bees not treated to light therapy showed drastically reduced ATP levels. They also showed symptoms of diminished mobility. Bees poisoned and treated with near infrared light were more mobile and boasted better survival rates.

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One of the two control groups was treated with light even though they hadn't been exposed to pesticides. The light-treated group had higher survival rates than the control group that was neither poisoned nor treated.

"Long-wavelength light treatments have been shown in other studies to reduce mitochondrial degeneration which results from aging processes," Glen Jeffery, a researcher with the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, said in a news release. "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,"

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The new findings -- detailed in the journal PLOS ONE -- suggest light therapy works best as a preventative method, but can also trigger recovery in bees if doses begin within two days of pesticide exposure.

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"We found that by shining deep red light on the bee which had been affected by the toxic pesticides that they could recover, as it improved mitochondrial and visual function, and enabled them to move around and feed again," added Michael Powner, a former UCL researcher now working at City, University of London.

Bees are now one of several animals shown to benefit from regular exposure to near infrared light.

"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," Jeffery explained. "Essentially, it recharges the cell's batteries."

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