Light Therapy Could Protect Imperiled Bees From Pesticides

Near-infrared light shows promise as a treatment for exposure to deadly chemicals, scientists find.

University College London (UCL) researchers have found in a new study that treating bees with long-wavelength light therapy can help the insects handle the effects of deadly pesticides.

The scientists exposed two groups of commercial-hive bees to the neonicotinoid Imidacloprid over a 10-day period. One of the groups also received 15 minutes per day of near-infrared light shone into their hive.

The poisoned bees lost their mobility and had poor rates of survival, the researchers found. But the poisoned bees that had also received light therapy had far better mobility and lived just as long as another group of bees that had not been poisoned or received light therapy.

Meanwhile, a fourth group of bees was given only light therapy – no poisons – and those insects lived even longer than the bees that were neither poisoned nor given light treatments.

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Neonicotinoids (a.k.a. "neonics") are a class of insecticide. When sprayed on plants, they make the whole plant, including its fruit, toxic to insects. They're considered a top threat to bees. But the UCL team suggests help could be on the way.

"Long-wavelength light treatments have been shown in other studies to reduce mitochondrial degeneration which results from aging processes," said the UCL's Glen Jeffery, lead author of the study, just published in the journal PLOS ONE.

"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," he added.

While Jeffery and his team found that light therapy is most effective as a preventive measure, they said it can still be used as a treatment after pesticide exposure, so long as the light is shone on the bees within two days of exposure.

"We found that by shining deep red light on the bees which had been affected by the toxic pesticides they could recover, as [they] improved mitochondrial and visual function, and [could] move around and feed again," said the leader of the study, UCL's Michael Powner.

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