National Geographic News
A honeybee visits a coffee flower.

A honeybee visits a coffee flower, which contains low levels of caffeinated nectar that increases the bee's memory.

Photograph courtesy Geraldine Wright, AAAS/Science

Christy Ullrich

National Geographic News

Published March 8, 2013

A cup of coffee doesn't just provide a jolt for people in the morning. Bees may crave a buzz too. Scientists have found that some plants, like the coffee plant (Coffea), use caffeine to manipulate the memory of bees. The nectar in their flowers holds low levels of caffeine that pollinators find highly rewarding. (Read more about caffeine in National Geographic magazine)

Bitter-tasting caffeine primarily arose in plants as a toxic defense against herbivores like garden slugs. At high doses, caffeine can be toxic and repellent to pollinators.

However, at low concentrations, caffeine appears to have a secondary advantage, attracting honeybees and enhancing their long-term memory, said lead author Geraldine Wright, a neuroscientist at Newcastle University in England, whose study was published online March 7 in the journal Science.

"We show that caffeine—a compound whose ecological role is mainly to deter and poison herbivores—actually acts like a drug in an ecologically relevant context," Wright said. "The plant is secretly drugging the pollinator. It may help the bee, but the plant cares more about having a pollinator with high fidelity!"

Wright's team wanted to investigate what effect caffeine could have on the learning and memory of honeybees, so they measured the caffeine content in two types of plants, Citrus and Coffea. Both have elaborate flowers and strong scents that attract honeybees. The plants benefit from bee pollination by producing more fruits and seeds. (Read more about learning and memory in honeybees.)

To measure the "pharmacological effects" of the drug, the team trained individual honeybees using a classic conditioning procedure where the bee sticks out its tongue for odor and food rewards. (Watch of a video of a similar type of bee experiment.)

The researchers found that a memory association formed for the odor that came with the caffeine, a buzz-inducing reward.

The greatest effect was seen in the long-term memory experiment, with three times as many bees remembering the scent and sticking out their tongues for the caffeine reward 24 hours later, and twice as many recalling it 72 hours later.

Caffeine changes how neurons in the bee's brain respond to learning and memory tasks, Wright said. It causes cells to have a stronger reaction to sensory input, a change that also leads to long-term potentiation, a key mechanism underlying memory formation.

The effects of caffeine on learning and memory in people is not as clear. "But I think there is overwhelming evidence that we return again and again to consume caffeine because of the way we feel after drinking it," Wright said.

7 comments
Zhen Liu
Zhen Liu

Interesting~ I have designed a scientific poster for the Science article in my lesson~

Mike Blain
Mike Blain

Babu, I think the problem with your eloquent reasoning is the imprecise term "macro-evolution".  Your interpretation was... "Evolution By Big Steps", making it a whole invented concept different from real evolution.


Big steps never happen, and macro-evolution is not actually a process, it is only an "emergent property" of many many small changes.


Imagine this.  If you use very small tools for many years on a large boulder, breaking off a grain of sand with each blow, you eventually end up with a heap of sand.  Someone else (after you finished) can mistakenly suggest a special macro-process converting a boulder into a heap of sand, but in reality only the gradual chipping has ever happened.  More importantly, the actual chipping process is now invisible to the new observer.


Also, you refer to a "partly evolved" creature, which is not possible.  At any moment (including today) the genetic line is always intermediate between what it was long ago and what it will be far into the future.  Whenever you observe the gene pool it is always "fully evolved" for that specific time period, and for that specific environment. Partly evolved is a hindsight illusion.
 

You are perfectly correct on some points...
"unthinking environment has no ability to design", correct, and no design is even necessary for evolution to be working, today and always.
"biological similarities ... no proof of common ancestry", correct, its not proof of anything its just an observation.
"natural selection ... not a creative force", correct, it simply happens, making some individuals marginally more likely than others to survive and breed.

Regards, Mike

Ardith Peterson
Ardith Peterson

I don't know if anyone involved with the above article and the studies in the article ever have a chance to read the comments, but I just had a thought.  Humans in general, we like our coffee. We like the taste, smell and the energy that we get after consuming larger quantities of the black beverage. In short we like the caffeine in the beverage.

There is approximately 140-200 mg of caffeine per 6 oz cup of strong coffee.  To my surprise, according to Lindsey Goodwin, (No Date), about.com, How Much Caffeine is in Coffee, Tea, Cola & Other Drinks? Caffeine Levels for Coffee, Tea & Other Drinks, your average single shot of espresso only contains 75 mg caffeine.  So when you think about it in terms of my favorite coffee drink, the 911, which has 6 shots of espresso, there are only 450 mg of caffeine in each of my, totally delicious, blended 911’s.  I really thought there was a lot more caffeine in the drink.

Sorry, I’m getting off my topic, which is memory.  The above article, talks about a new study that shows how caffeine can improve bees’ memory.  I was wondering how that information could be equated to beings just a bit larger, a human being maybe.  If we were to take it a step further, to a human with Alzheimer’s disease.

The bees in the study were only given very small doses of caffeine, but it did improve their long term memories.  I assume that the bees’ only source of caffeine was the scientists conducting the study.  I’m sure that the bees weren’t buzzing out to pick up their morning Double Chocolate Mocha or Latte.

I would like to know what type of improvement we might see if we gave low doses of caffeine to Alzheimer’s patients.  Would their memory and maybe even their other mental capabilities improve?  It wouldn’t be too much of a problem controlling the patients’ caffeine intake, because Alzheimer’s patients usually live in secure facilities, not able to “buzz” out and get caffeine whenever they wanted to.

It’s just a thought…  But what if it worked?  What if the key to curing Alzheimer’s disease lay in our daily coffee?

Babu Ranganathan
Babu Ranganathan

ONLY LIMITED EVOLUTION POSSIBLE IN NATURE
 
All real evolution in nature is within limits. The genes already exist for micro-evolution (variations within a biological kind such as varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.), but not for macro-evolution (variations across biological kinds such as from sea sponge to human). The unthinking environment has no ability to design or program entirely new genes. Only variations of already existing genes and traits are possible. A dog will always be a dog no matter how many varieties come into being. 

Evolutionists hope and assume that, over millions of years, random mutations (accidental changes) in the genetic code caused by radiation from the environment will produce entirely new genes for entirely new traits in species so that macro-evolution occurs.  It’s much like hoping that, if given enough time, randomly changing the sequence of letters in a cook book will turn the book into a romance novel, or a book on astronomy!
 
Another problem for macro-evolution is the issue of survival of the fittest. How can a partially evolved species be fit for survival? A partially evolved trait or organ that is not complete and fully functioning from the start will be a liability to a species, not a survival asset. Plants and animals in the process of macro-evolution would be unfit for survival. 

Imagine an evolving fish having part fins and part feet, with the fins evolving into feet. Where’s the survival advantage? It can't use either fins or feet efficiently. These fish exist only on automobile bumper stickers!

In fact, how could species have survived at all while their vital organs were supposedly evolving? Survival of the fittest (aka natural selection) may explain how species survive, due to minor variations and adaptations to the environment, but not how they originated. Natural selection merely “selects” from biological variations that are possible. It’s not a creative force.

Genetic and biological similarities between species are no proof of common ancestry. Such similarities are better and more logically explained due to a common Genetic Engineer or Designer (yes, God) who designed similar functions for similar purposes in various species. Genetic information, like other forms of information, cannot arise by chance, so it's more rational to believe that DNA or genetic similarities between species are due to intelligent design.

What about "Junk" DNA? The latest science shows that "Junk DNA" isn't junk after all! It's we who were ignorant of how useful these segments of DNA really are. Recent scientific research published in scientific journals such as Nature and RNA has revealed that the "non-coding" segments of DNA are essential in regulating gene expression (i.e. how, when, and where genes are expressed in the body).
 
All the fossils that have been used to support human evolution have ultimately been found to be either hoaxes, non-human, or human, but not human and non-human.
 
All species in the fossil record and living are complete, fully-formed, and fully functional. There's no macro-evolution in nature.
 
Visit my newest Internet sites, THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION and WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS (2nd Edition)
 
Sincerely,
Babu G. Ranganathan
(B.A. Bible/Biology)
 
Author of the popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

*I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I've been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who in The East" for my writings on religion and science.

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