Drunken Fruit Flies Provide Insight into Alcohol Tolerance

Fruit flies are more than just the pesky bugs that appear in later summer and seem to want to swarm your kitchen. Now, researchers at North Carolina State and Boston universities are using these pests to identify entire networks of genes – which are also present in humans – that play a vital role in alcohol drinking behavior.

Science Daily recently posted a release that examined this study, which provides a crucial explanation of why some people seem to tolerate alcohol better than others. The study also provided a potential target for drugs aimed at preventing or eliminating alcoholism. The discovery helps to shine light on many of the negative side effects of drinking.

“Translational studies, like this one, in which discoveries from model organisms can be applied to insights in human biology, can make us understand the balance between nature and nurture, why we behave the way we do, for better or worse, and what makes us tick,” said Robert Anholt, a Professor of Biology and Genetics at North Carolina State University, Director of the W. M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology.

To conduct the study, Anholt and his colleagues measured the amount of time it took for the fruit flies to lose postural control after exposure to alcohol. The changes in the expressions of the fliers’ genes were also recorded at the same time. Through statistical analysis, the scientists were able to pinpoint specific genes that played a crucial role in adaptation relating to alcohol exposure.

This information was then applied in human studies to determine if the outcomes would be the same. The scientists found that the same genes apply in humans and the expression of the human counterpart of a critical gene in fruit flies could be directly tied to alcohol consumption in humans.

“From a scientific point-of-view, research like this is almost intoxicating,” said Mark Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Genetics, in which the study was published. “We’ve known for a while now that genetics played a role in alcohol consumption, but now, we actually know some of the genes that are involved. As a result of this work, we have a potential drug target for curing this insidious condition.”

There is still hope.

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