Neurobiology of the Honeybee

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Honeybees are a valuable model organism for the investigation of basic neurobiological questions because of their social way of live, their rich and extremely varied learned behaviour patterns, and their easily accessible brains. At the Honeybee Research Centre of the "Polytechnische Gesellschaft" in Oberursel, professor Bernd Grünewald and his team investigate the cell physiological mechanisms of learning and memory formation that enables bees to perform their efficient foraging activities. Nerve cells (neurons) transmit electrical impulses, which result from the transport of ions across the cell membrane by pore-building proteins, so-called ion channels. Grünewald investigates the functioning of these voltage-dependent ion channels with the objective of identifying their roles during odour learning and odour information processing in the insect brain. Information is chemically transmitted between two neurons by messenger substances (neurotransmitters). As a result of learning processes, the physiology of the involved neurons may change. Grünewald and his team analyse both the processes controlling this neuronal plasticity and the actions of inhibitory transmitters and neural networks in memory formation. The results are integrated into a comprehensive physiological model of those nerve cells responsible for processing and storing odour information within the brain.

The areas of the brain involved in odour learning and the factors that consolidate the memory of insects are characterised by Grünewald using behavioural techniques ranging from laboratory and field studies to pharmacological tests. To understand the distinctive social behaviours of honeybees, the team analyses the foraging behaviour of worker bees, the social thermoregulation of the brood area and the activity of drones in the bee colony. The research also focuses on new therapies for bee diseases and the effects of insecticides on the bees' cognitive performance.

Grünewald describes his research field as follows, "In the course of our extensive experimental research, students familiarize themselves with the neural mechanisms of behavioural control on a neurobiological model organism, the honeybee, which as a pollinator is both relevant for our society and of great economic value to agriculture."

Brief Biography

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Bernd Grünewald studied Biology and Psychology at the University of Regensburg. He completed his doctoral thesis on the role of inhibitory neurons during odour learning at the Free University Berlin. With the aid of a postdoctoral fellowship from the German Research Foundation (DFG), he worked for two years at the University of Arizona in Tucson, U.S.A. Starting in 1997 he established his own research group at the Freie Universität Berlin, and in 2005 received his Habilitation in Zoology. In 2008 Grünewald accepted the "Polytechnische Gesellschaft" Endowed Chair at the Goethe University Frankfurt. Since then he has been the head of the Honeybee Research Centre Oberursel of the "Polytechnische Gesellschaft". The centre was founded in 1937 and has been maintained in partnership with Goethe University since 1963.


Prof. Dr. Bernd Grünewald
Honeybee Research Centre Oberursel
Karl-von-Frisch-Weg 2
61440 Oberursel
Telephone: +49 (0)6171 21278