Buzzed Fruit Flies Offer Addiction Clues

Like humans, fruit flies that get intoxicated on alcohol can become addicted and keep drinking regardless of the consequences — findings that could help researchers better understand how alcoholism works, U.S. News and World Report reported Dec. 10.

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco studied the behavior of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) that were given the option of drinking alcohol. They found that the flies consumed food spiked with alcohol faster than plain food, with preference for alcohol increasing over time.

When the strength of the alcohol was increased, researchers found, fruit flies who had been drinking longer preferred the higher-proof mix, while shorter-term drinkers did not.

Flies that consumed up to 25 percent alcohol were hyperactive and lost coordination. The alcohol-loving flies continued to drink even when their food was mixed with the toxic chemical quinine, which they usually avoid.

Heavy-drinking flies who were denied alcohol for a few days immediately “relapsed” to drinking once their alcohol supply was restored, researchers found.

Drosophila has famously been used for genetic research thanks to the species’ high reproduction rate, and researchers are hopeful that the fruit flies can provide insights into the genetic underpinnings of addiction.

The study was published Dec. 10, 2009 in the journal Current Biology.

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