Alcohol Addiction Found in Fruit Flies

December 23rd, 2009 by

According to a new study, fruit flies show both desperation and relapse when exposed to alcohol for a length of time.

Researchers say their study may shed light on the genetic roots of alcohol addiction.

Fruit flies, it may seem strange, are often used for genetic studies due both to their rapid reproductive rate, as well as their chemical pathways similar to humans. Previously, fruit flies were used for intoxication and tolerance studies.

This new study out of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) looked specifically at addiction, with the hope of later working “out the genes underlying addiction-like behaviours,” co-author Anita Devineni told National Geographic News.

For the first experiment, fruit flies were presented with two different liquids—one containing ethanol (a form of alcohol) and the other without. The flies were given unlimited access to the liquids, although feeders were only refilled once a day. The fruit flies showed an overwhelming preference for the alcohol-filled liquid.

Furthermore, the more they drank of it, the more they seemed to crave it—their bouts of drinking became more frequent over time.

In the second experiment, researchers tainted the alcoholic liquid with substances known to normally repulse fruit flies. However, they drank on!

Researchers then forced the flies into a three-day dry spell—quite a bout of time when your lifespan is about 30 days. As soon as the flies were offered the alcoholic liquid again, the flies returned to drinking at the same levels as before the enforced dry spell, very similar to an alcoholic’s relapse.

The next stage of research is in hopes of identifying the genes behind relapse, potentially leading to a lasting and effective addiction treatment for alcoholism.

The findings appear in Current Biology.

Source: National Geographic News