Caffeine Shown to Improve Memory in Bees November 21 2013


Many plants contain caffeine in their leaves naturally as a defense mechanism. The bitter taste deters hungry animals from eating plants containing it. Caffeine can  also be found in the nectar of the plant. The amount of caffeine in the nectar of a coffee plant is similar to what we find in a cup of instant coffee. The bees do not taste the caffeine at these low doses  but it is high enough to affect their behavior.   

In a recent study from the U.K., caffeine was shown to improve memory in honeybees. The bees were trained Pavlovian style to remember the scent of certain flowers. The ones that were fed the caffeinated nectar, as opposed to just sugar nectar, were three times more likely to remember the scent of that flower 24 hours later. Also, twice as many bees still remembered after 72 hours. 

Caffeine changes how Kenyon cells, neurons which are involved in memory and learning, respond to information. It leads to more sensitivity and stronger reaction to input. In other words, caffeine helps bees remember the floral scents and come back more often. This gives these plants an advantage by having a "faithful" pollinator. 

While the effect on bees is obvious, researchers are hesitant to say caffeine has beneficial effects on memory in humans. More study is needed  to see how caffeine affects us. But how many people drink coffee while reading or studying? Maybe our bodies are trying to tell us something. I think I'll have another cup just in case.