Scientists Enabled Complex Learning in Simulated Bees

Scientists enabled complex learning in simulated bees

According to a study published in PLOS Computational Biology, in July 2017, mushroom bodies are not the only pathways for learning complex associations in bees.

A team of researchers at the Queen Mary University of London built a computational model of the brain circuits of bees, which are used to process olfactory information. They then removed the mushroom body circuits from the simulated bees to observed what changes would take place in the brain of the bees. The mushroom bodies are thought to be similar to the cerebral cortex present in mammals, as they are essential for intelligent control of instinctive behaviors in bees.

The team tested the performance of the simulated bees on the tasks commonly used to explore learning in real bees. These tasks included that which enabled them to learn different odors with rewards.

The study showed that the mutant bees performed equally well to the real bees with mushroom bodies. These simulated bees were able to learn associations of mixtures of odors with rewards, even when the odor was not linked to the reward. This was made possible through a simple neural circuit, which was previously associated with instinctive behaviors.

“This perhaps explains why the tiny brain of bees is so good at multi-tasking and juggling so many learning behaviors and instinctual routines, it shows that remarkable forms of plasticity can be pervasive anywhere, even in the simplest nervous systems.” said study co-author, Lars Chittka.

This finding shows that bees have two redundant neural pathways, which provide required flexibility to bees when in complex odor environments that requires them to respond to pheromones in hives as well as learned olfactory responses to rewarding flowers.

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