Honeybee study shows aging can be slowed

Your parents always said you were giving them gray hair. Now, science is backing them up, at least in the case of bees. Researchers have found that nurturing the hive’s progeny accelerates aging in the insects. In summer, worker honeybees usually spend several weeks feeding the queen’s new larvae (the queen is marked in green).Workers then change careers, living out their days as pollen-collecting foragers. They die a mere two weeks after making the switch, showing a steep decline in brain function. But bees born just before winter, without a brood to nourish, live nearly a year.

To investigate, researchers placed winter bees in a summerlike environment, both with and without young bees to care for. The bees with a brood fed the babies and then developed into foragers who died after two weeks. But brood-free foragers lived up to 10 weeks with no cognitive decline, the researchers reported online in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

They noticed high levels of lipofuscin, an “age pigment,” in short-lived foragers and much lower levels in longer-lived bees. These changing levels suggest that, for bees, aging is a dynamic process that can be slowed or even reversed. Maybe that explains why your dad started playing bass in a garage band after you left the nest.

Protein in breast milk helps destroy MRSA

Known for its painful skin infections as much as its namesake resistance to methicillin, MRSA is a scary germ in a world where old antibiotics don’t always work. But now, researchers have managed to make MRSA sensitive to methicillin again by pairing the drug with a protein complex first discovered in breast milk.

In a paper published May 1 in PLOS ONE, the researchers show that the complex, known as HAMLET (for human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor cells) helped methicillin kill MRSA in the noses of mice at a dose of 10 micrograms, while the antibiotic alone was ineffective even at 10 times that level.

HAMLET also makes ordinary bacteria more sensitive to antibiotics, so that only a fraction of the drug is needed. Bacteria seem to have a tough time developing resistance to HAMLET, and the complex doesn’t have toxic side effects because therapeutic doses are no more than what a baby would drink in milk. That means a HAMLET-and-antibiotic cocktail could be the next approach for scary superbugs.

ScienceNOW is the online daily news service of the journal Science.