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New research shows that exposure to a certain kind of insecticide alters the genetic makeup of honeybees. The US has denied the link between insecticides and honeybee deaths, while the European Commission has placed a temporary ban on three neonicotinoids pending new research, but the University of Nottigham study published in the journal PLOS ONE establishes a clear relationship between the insecticide imidacloprid and genetic changes in honeybees.

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Exposed to just two parts per billion of the imidacloprid neonicotinoid out in the field, cells of honeybee larvae have to work harder and the genes that break down toxins increase their activity in order to cope with the insecticide, according to PhysOrg. Genes that regulate how much energy is used to run cells were also affected.

Stopping short of claiming that the insecticide kills the bees, the researchers show that similar genetic changes reduce the lifespan of fruit flies – the most widely studied insect – and reduce the possibility that larva will reach adulthood.

“Although larvae can still grow and develop in the 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,” Reinhard Stöger, Associate Professor in Epigenetics, told Physorg.

Bees pollinate one third of all the food we eat and the quest to protect them has become more urgent than ever. Last winter, one in three bees died in the US. To get a sense of what our supermarkets would look like without them, check out this shocking image produced by Whole Foods.

Via Physorg