Sweet Detoxification: P-Coumaric Acid

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Photo Courtesy OkayRyan
A recent study confirms what bee specialists have observed in the field for some time: honey triggers bees’ internal defenses.

Honey may be one of life’s simple pleasures, but honeybees
have an extra reason to love the sweet stuff, writes Susan Milius in ScienceNews(April 29, 2013). A recent study confirms what bee specialists have observed
in the field for some time: honey triggers bees’ internal defenses. The study,
led by entomologist May Berenbaum at the University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign, found that compounds in honey, specifically p-coumaric
acid, activate genes involved in making detoxifying chemicals and antimicrobial
agents.

Spring through fall, honeybees come into contact with p-coumaric
acid regularly–it’s part of the coating on pollen grains. Honey contains it as
well, but sugary substitutes (typically high-fructose corn syrup) and protein
supplements fed to bees by commercial keepers in winter don’t, explaining why
colony resilience drops in that season.

“Honeybees these days have plenty to detoxify,” notes
Millius. “121 pesticides and their breakdown products showed up in a 2010
survey of honeybees and their hives in 23 states and one Canadian province.”

Berenbaum warns against attempting to add p-coumaric
acid to the bees’ diets. Research is still fresh and it’s just one compound
they are looking at. The implication, she suggests, is that it’s time to
reexamine the practice of wintering bees on artificial diets.

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