Scientists turn bees into cokeheads

Keen to find out whether cocaine has as devastating effect on honeybee society as it does on human communities, researchers in Australia and the US have been feeding the Bolivian marching powder to bees and monitoring its effects.

Macquarie University ethologist Andrew Barron and his colleagues found that cocaine stimulates bees’ reward centres, and quickly leads to dependency and withdrawal symptoms when withheld. The researchers conclude that bees are as susceptible as humans to cocaine’s allure, and the plan now is to identify the neural pathways targeted by the drug. The overall aim is, they say, to find out more about the mechanisms involved in human addiction.

Now I’m sure it’s all very interesting, but I cannot help wondering about the ethics of turning bees into drug fiends in the cause of scientific understanding. Especially when the animals in question have a few not insignificant differences to humans in terms of basic physiology. I understand that there are research studies of addiction that focus on Homo sapiens in all its glory and depravity, so how much relevant information can scientists hope to gather from Apis mellifera? Surely addiction is about more than the biochemical disruption of neuromodulator systems.