Researchers Hope to Upload Simulated Honey Bee Brains into Insectobots

Tip News   By DNA   October 20, 2014

A team of scientists inspired by the animated American television series “Pinky and the Brain” is hoping to conquer the world by developing and uploading a computer program that simulates a honey bee’s brain into swarms of insectobots. Armed with nano-stingers filled with chemicals formulated to control humans, these flying robotic insects will be able to annoy their human prey as efficiently as real life bees.

Okay, I kid.

In truth, researchers at the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex are developing an algorithm that mimics two key functions specific to a honey bee’s brain, vision and sense of smell. Although it’s easy to dismiss a honey bee’s intelligence, trying to simulate even the simplest cognitive processes pose significant challenges to the scientists working on this project, dubbed the “Green Brain Project.”

Driven by the need to find ways to supplement the world’s diminishing honey bee population, the “Green Brain Project” was recently awarded USD $1,614,700 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The project is also supported by the NVIDIA corporation who has donated key hardware, most notably high-performance graphical processing units called GPU accelerators.

robobee2What makes this project unique is its approach to computer simulated cognition, which strives to create a working AI that more closely resembles the interactive neurological processes of real brains: “This is an important further advance over current work on brain models because it is becoming more and more clear that an essential aspect of brain function is that the brain is not acting in isolation but in constant interaction with the body and the environment.

The project is also getting help from honey bee brain expert Martin Giurfa of Toulouse, whose contributions to the project the researchers hope will lead to autonomously flying robotic insects that will be among the first to perform specific cognitive tasks as efficiently as the brains of real insects, and in this case, with the aim of helping pollinate the world’s crops.

http://topinfopost.com/2014/10/20/simulated-honey-bee-brains-insectobots

http://techgenmag.com/2014/09/researchers-hope-to-upload-simulated-honey-bee-brains-into-insectobots/

Decoding Waggle Dances to Determine Where Honey Bees Forage

University of Sussex     4/17/14

The number of bee hives in the UK has declined by nearly 75 per cent in the past century, from approximately one million to 280,000. One major reason for this is change in land use leading to fewer flowers. Fields of wheat and barley now have few weeds. Fields of grass now have few wild flowers and clover is less used. hay meadows are increasingly rare and much of the heather moorland has been ploughed up or lost to urbanisation. To stay in business, commercial beekeepers need hives to produce reasonable honey crops.

Successful honey bee foragers make waggle dances when they return to the hive. These dances tell nestmates the direction and distance of profitable flower patches. The dances can also be decoded by researchers, using observation hives and video cameras. Honey bees literally tell the researchers where they have been foraging - they are the only animals doing this. Decoding dances provide an effective means of investigating honey bee feeding ecology. Previous LASI research has shown that honey bees fly up to 14km to highly rewarding patches of heather. By decoding waggle dances we will be able to determine which parts of the landscape are good for honey bees, and how this varies in different seasons and months. This information will be of value to people who are responsible for growing plants and who want to make Britain a more bee and insect friendly country, including farmers, land managers, parks departments, and gardeners. Because honey bees are generalist foragers, foraging on plants also visited by other pollinating insects, the results of this project will help other insect species including bumble bees, other wild bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

Decoding bee dances will also be used to investigate the stress caused by moving hives. Beekeepers often move hives by truck, and it is suggested that the stress caused by moving hives can be harmful. One form of stress on the bees will be the need to “relearn” where to forge in a new location.

Main aims

To determine the habitats and distances from the hive that honey bees collect food, the plants that they visit, and to make recommendations for land use in both rural and urban areas that benefit honey bees and beekeepers.

Read more... 
http://www.sussex.ac.uk/lasi/sussexplan/dances

 

Summer Blues for Bees According to University of Sussex Research

The Argus News   4/18/14

Summer is the most challenging season for honey bees to collect nectar and pollen, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Sussex Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) spent two years filming honey bees in its glass-fronted observation hives.

They then decoded their waggle dances to discover how far the bees were having to fly to find sources of food during different seasons.

The waggle dance, in which the bee waggles its abdomen while moving in a figure of eight pattern, is performed by returning forager bees in the hive to tell its nest mates where to find good sources of pollen and nectar.

The dance indicates the distance to a patch of flowers from the hive and the direction from the hive.

The bees were able to access the surrounding downland countryside and Brighton and Hove through tube tunnels that opened to the outside of the lab.

By examining the waggle dance data, researchers found that in summer, honey bees were covering areas 22 times greater than in spring and six times greater than in the autumn.

The study also showed summer is probably a harder season both because there are fewer flowers but also because there are more insects active at that time, competing with each other for nectar and pollen.

Margaret Couvillon, who led the research, said: “We eavesdropped on what the bees were communicating to each other about where to find good food.

“What they told each other shows that they are finding it harder to find food in the summer than in the spring or autumn.

“In any conservation work, it is important to know where the animal collects its food.

“Some researchers attach tracking devices to the animals they study, which we cannot do because the honey bees are too small.

“But we also don’t have to because the honey bee is the only animal that tells you directly where it has collected food.”

The results could be used to focus efforts to help bees better, researchers say.

Read at...

http://m.theargus.co.uk/news/11157720.Summer_blues_for_bees/

Scientists Decode Honeybee 'Waggle Dance'

 The Guardian   By Alison Benjamin   April 3, 2014

Unique form of communication allowed researchers to map the distance and location where bees foraged from month to month 

A honeybee who has found a good source of nectar or pollen performs a waggle dance to tell her nestmates where she has foraged. Here she repeatedly communicates that the profitable food location is at approximately 750m from the hive and about 270 degrees from the sun's azimuth

Honeybees fly much longer distances in the summer than in the spring and autumn to find good sources of food, a new study has found.

Researchers at Sussex University spent two years decoding the "waggle dance" of thousands of honeybees, a form of communication by which the bees tell their nestmates where to go to get the best source of food to bring back to the hive.

By measuring the angle of the dance in relation to the sun and the length of time the bee waggled its abdomen while moving in a figure of eight pattern, researchers have been able to map the distance and location where bees forage from month to month.

With a one second waggle equating to a foraging distance of 750 metres, the bees dance language revealed that the area they covered in search of food is approximately 22 times greater in the summer (July and August) than in spring (March) and six times greater in summer than in the autumn (October). In the summer the area they cover is 15.2km sq, compared to 0.8km in spring and 5.1km in the autumn.

Honeybees will not waste valuable time and energy travelling to find food if they don’t need to, so the researchers say the results, published in the journal PlOS One, show that the summer is the most challenging season for bees to collect the nectar and pollen from flowers.

“There is an abundance of flowers in the spring from crocuses and dandelions to blossoming fruit trees. And in the autumn there is an abundance of flowering ivy. But it is harder for them to locate good patches of flowers in the summer because agricultural intensification means there are fewer wildflowers in the countryside for bees,” said Frances Ratnieks, professor of apiculture at Sussex University, who supervised the study.

Honeybees face many challenges including increasing lack of forage because of modern farming practices.

The researcher say the results can be used to focus efforts to help bees better. “The bees are telling us where they are foraging so we can now understand how best to help them by planting more flowers for them in the summer,” said Ratnieks.

This video describes the research project Waggle dance distances as integrative indicators of seasonal foraging challenges carried out by Margaret Couvillon, Roger Schürch and Francis Ratnieks at the Laboratory of Apiculture & Social Insects (LASI) in the School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex

Honeybees may also have to forage further in the summer because they have more mouths to feed when the colony expands to 50,000 bees and there is more competition for food from other insects and pollinators including bumblebees.

The glass-fronted observation hives are located at the university campus surrounded by the South Downs countryside and a few kilometres from the city parks and gardens of nearby Brighton and Hove.

The waggle dance clearly show that the bees are heading to the downs in the summer and researchers are currently examining which flowers they are feeding there.

The honeybee dance language was first decoded by Austrian scientist Karl von Frisch who was awarded a Nobel prize in 1973 for the discovery.

Ratnieks said its work will benefit other pollinators, such as bumblebees.

“Mapping the waggle dance will allow us to help other species, because where honeybees find good food, we have already found a plethora of other pollinating insects feeding there,” said Ratnieks. “So we can improve forage for all these insects.”

The Sussex research comes as the the IUCN's latest "red list" of threatened species update warns that 24% of Europe’s 68 bumblebee species are threatened with extinction. According to the Status and Trends of European Pollinators, loss of habitat and wildflowers due to modern farming practices and urban development, plus changes in temperature from climate change, are the main threats to the species.

Read article (and comments) and view video at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/03/honeybees-fly-further-in-summer-to-find-food-study-shows?commentpage=1
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yELA7pvNUQI#t=115
Related articles: 
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0093495
http://www.sussex.ac.uk/newsandevents/?id=24883&intrefk=slideshow&intrefv=slide3

(FYI:  There were numerous comments to this article, such as:

"The waggle dance was first decoded by Austrian scientist Karl von Firsch who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1973 for the discovery."

The question was asked: "Why was it necessary for Sussex academics to spend two years studying the English waggle dance?" 

Response: "You ask why, but if you read the paper linked to in the article it clearly explains why. 
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0093495

Essentially because the waggle dance has been so well studied, it has been decoded. Therefore the waggle dance can be used to work out the foraging distances of the Honeybees.

The study says that most previous studies decoding the waggle dance have only been over a few weeks or months of the much longer year. This it says is partly down to the time consuming nature of decoding the waggle dance. However, advances have made it easier to decode the waggle dance. Therefore they set out to use this methodology to work out the Honeybee's foraging distances for the whole year.

The reason for this study is because of the decline of Honeybees. They wanted to know how far bees foraged at different times of the year and whether more flowers may help in an agricultural landscape, which often has large areas devoid of food (flowers) for foraging bees.

In other words it is part of the strategy for understanding and reversing the decline of Honeybees. The decline of Honeybees has a great cost, and if they decline even more, along with wild pollinators it might seriously effect agricultural production (almond production in California is already badly hit), and have major economic impacts.

So you ask how much this costs as if it is a waste of money, when the intention is to save the money being lost due to the decline in Honeybees."

Response: "Thankyou for providing the apparent reason for the work, which was to extend Frisch's work to the whole of the active season. This key piece of information was missing from the article.")

 

Keeping Bees in Cities Could be BAD for the Bees

DailyMail.com  By Sarah Griffiths   8/14/13

How the trendy hobby of keeping bees in cities could actually be BAD for them: City hives run the risk insect starvation

  • British scientists have warned that inexperienced beekeepers could risk spreading certain honey bee diseases
  • Bees living in city hives cannot find enough flowers to feed on locally and can end up sick or starving to death
  • They say city dwellers looking to help honey bees should plant their favorite flowers

British scientists claim urban beekeepers who set up hives in cities - in a bid to help the ailing honey bee population - could actually be harming the creatures.

Research has revealed that bees living in city hives cannot find enough flowers to feed on locally and can end up sick or starving to death.

The scientists suggest people living in cities who want to help the bees should grow bee-friendly flowers instead of setting up hives for the insects.

Spurred on by widespread coverage of declining bee numbers, urban beekeeping has never been more popular...

Read more... http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2392608/Keeping-bees-cities-actually-BAD-City-hives-run-risk-insect-starvation.html#ixzz2jJQxSZ5A