Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Flies Denied The Pootang Get Hammered

A little anthropomorphization there on my part, but I’m allowing myself a little artistic liberty with my titles for my journal-clubbing of these papers that just put a big old smile on my face. Science is awesome guys, didn’t ya know?

So in a paper that just came out on Science, Shohat-Ophir et al demonstrated that flies that are denied sex by females are driven to drink. Literally.

Basically, Drosophila melanogaster flies mate on a kind of first come, first serve basis. If they have already been mated, they will reject males that come along soon after looking for a little attention. These researchers therefore took some male flies and subjected them to this constant sexual rejection, for three hours every day, for four days. Their counterparts had a much better time, getting to romp around with multiple virgins 6 hours a day for four days (and they didn’t even have to die in jihad, har har har). After these testing conditions, these flies were then given the choice between eating normal food or eating food containing 15% ethanol. The difference between the two groups was remarkable

The rejected males went straight for the booze, whereas the perfectly satisfied males generally avoided it until a few days after they were in there.

So the question became this, was it the lack of sex that drove them to drink, or was it the pain and humiliation of being rejected? It turns out that, even if you simply deprive flies of sex without forcing them to go through the courtship process only to get rejected over and over again, they still prefer their drink. On the other hand, if they were subjected to constant rejection but then allowed to get it on with a few virgins, they had absolutely no interest in getting drunk with their sexually deprived friends.

As amusing as this research is, it makes for an interesting hypothesis regarding alcohol abuse and addictive behaviour.

There are certain reward systems hardwired into animal brains that are extremely useful for the propagation of the species. Having sex, eating food, brains “reward” animals for doing these things in order to give them a very good reason to keep doing them to keep the species going. Drugs like alcohol hijack these reward systems, making the animal feel good while it is actually doing something that is harmful rather than good for species survival. This research takes it a step further, suggesting that these reward systems need to be fulfilled in one way or another. Therefore, by depriving these flies of one way to satisfy their brains they resort to other methods to get that pleasure, like alcohol.

Of course humans are far more complicated than flies, so the extension to humans would be overly simplistic at best, but you see how we are finding ever more common ground with our fellow animals.

Feel better, flies that are sexually frustrated want to drown their sorrows in booze too.

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