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Study: Bees get 'forgetful' with age

Tempe, Ariz. -- Humans aren't alone in suffering failing memory with age, say U.S. and European scientists who found aging affects honeybees' ability to find their way home.

Researchers at Arizona State University and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences say the bees' learning behavior, critical to leading them home as the hive moves from location to location, becomes inflexible with age, PhysOrg.com reported Tuesday.

Bees are excellent navigators, able to return to their home through changing landscapes after visits to flowers far removed from their nests, but the study reveals that aging impairs the bees' ability to erase memories of a former hive site after the colony has settled in a new home, researchers say.

Old bees with symptoms of senescence tended to return to the former nest site, despite finding it uninhabited and unusable, the study found.

But the phenomenon was not universal, the researchers said.

"Although many old bees fail in learning tasks, we also discovered that a few still perform with excellence," Daniel Munch, a senior life sciences researcher in Norway, says.

The scientists say their findings offer a new means to model and understand the variability found in brain function between individuals, where some individuals' memories remain intact while others' learning behavior becomes inflexible with age.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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