My current research uses the honey bee as a model for the study of experience-induced structural plasticity in the adult brain. When they complete metamorphosis, honey bees spend a week or two performing tasks inside the hive before switching to foraging outside the hive for nectar and pollen. A region of the honey bee brain called the mushroom bodies is significantly larger in highly experienced foragers than in naive foragers. My graduate students and undergraduate research assistants use a variety of behavioral, neuroanatomical, and molecular techniques to investigate the mechanisms of brain growth in adults. One take home message from this research is that development of the nervous system is a lifelong phenomenon. Another is that practicing something – really, really practicing something, the way a honey bee spends her days visiting flowers – reliably changes the structure of your brain.
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