The research, conducted at The University of Texas at Austin and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on September 24, shows that honey bees exposed to glyphosate lose some of the beneficial bacteria in their guts. This makes the bees more susceptible to infection and death from harmful bacteria.
Scientists believe this is evidence that glyphosate might be contributing to the years-long decline of honey bees and native bees around the world.
In a press release, the researchers explained their findings:
Because glyphosate interferes with an important enzyme found in plants and microorganisms, but not in animals, it has long been assumed to be nontoxic to animals, including humans and bees. But this latest study shows that by altering a bee’s gut microbiome — the ecosystem of bacteria living in the bee’s digestive tract, including those that protect it from harmful bacteria — glyphosate compromises its ability to fight infection.
To conduct the study, the research team took 2,000 honey bees from hives at the University of Texas campus and fed them either a low dose of glyphosate, a high dose, or a glyphosate-free syrup.
It didn’t take long for glyphosate to cause problems for the bees involved in the study: after only three days of exposure at levels known to occur in crop fields, yards, and roadsides, the herbicide significantly reduced healthy gut microbiota. “Of eight dominant species of healthy bacteria in the exposed bees, four were found to be less abundant. The hardest hit bacterial species, Snodgrassella alvi, is a critical microbe that helps bees process food and defends against pathogens,” the researchers reported.
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