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Bees can have their lives lengthened tenfold, an international research team headed by Dr. Gro Amdam at Arizona State University has found. The antioxidant protein vitellogenin reverses the aging process in some worker bees. This may eventually lead to breakthroughs in the research on aging in humans.
The process occurs in worker bees that become nurse bees. Through the transformation process, the details of which are still sketchy, the bees experience a considerable increase in the concentration of the protein vitellogenion in their body. Vitellogenin appears to prevent and reverse oxidative stress to the bees, a process strongly associated with aging.
The team observed that worker bees, which at the start of their lives have a life expectancy of about four to six weeks, could go through a process through which they would take on the characteristics of bees that are tasked with taking care of queen bees and offspring.
During this process, the bees appeared to have their immune system completely renewed, and they would live to ages of six to ten months, up to ten times their original life expectancy. This means that they are radically revitalized, in essence having their aging process reversed.
At the heart of the matter is the protein vitellogenin, which dramatically reduces the oxidative stress on the bees. Queen bees may accumulate large concentrations of the protein, and enjoy life spans of up to five years. The worker bees that go through the rejuvenation process have their antioxidant defenses boosted in the same way.
The studies supervised by Dr. Amdam show that the rejuvenated bees have considerably more of the protein in their system than ordinary worker bees. In experiments, ordinary worker bees were shown to be much more vulnerable to oxidative stress than the rejuvenated bees.
Oxidation of living cells, or oxidative stress, is the process which lies behind physical aging. Through the oxidation process, the cells of the body are broken down by reactants known as free radicals.
The harmful activities of free radicals are prevented and reversed by antioxidants, compounds that absorb and neutralize free radicals.
«There are many similarities between how bees and humans age,» she says. «Right now, we're trying to establish exactly how the bees get younger. We already know part of the answer, which is that the immune system is completely renewed and the vitellogenin level increases greatly.»