SYDNEY – An Australian scientist is doping up honey bees with cocaine to study how their brains react to the drug, and possibly find a way to stop addiction in humans.
The research found similarities between honey bees and humans, in that they are both are driven by rewards and both have their judgment altered by cocaine.
"This is the first time that it's been shown that cocaine has been rewarding to an insect," Andrew Barron, co-author of the report published this month in the Journal of Experimental Biology, told Reuters.
As part of a joint project between Australia's Macquarie University, the Australian National University and University of Illinois, Barren applied tiny doses of cocaine to the backs of bees before sending them out to hunt for food.
Normally when bees return from collecting pollen they perform a dance to communicate where the food was found and how good it tasted.
The cocaine-induced honey bees "waggledanced" much more enthusiastically than other bees, and seemed to experience the same addictive pleasures as humans, the report added.
Barron said the cocaine changed the bees' estimation of how successful its trip had been.
"What we found was that the honey bee responds to cocaine in very similar ways as humans, so cocaine changes the way the bees evaluate," he said.
"We also found that when we let the bees go 'cold turkey', they had real difficulties learning, which is the same thing you see in humans when they go through withdrawal."
Barron said he hoped to identify the neural pathways that cocaine targets in bees to find out more about the mechanisms involved in human addiction and to find out whether the drug has as devastating an effect on bee society as it does on humans.
"If we could do that, we could possibly develop new treatments to prevent or treat addiction," he said, adding that the bees used in the experiment were not harmed.