By David Joel Miller.
Lonely fruit flies get drunk.
Lonely fruit flies drink almost 50% more alcohol than fruit flies with mates. Maybe this should reassure us, maybe not. We have known for a long time that some other mammals will get drunk. Check the internet and you will find videos of drunken monkeys. So far the question was, do monkeys drink like humans or do humans who drink act like monkeys? Maybe both?
There are reports also of elephants that raid villager’s beer and get drunk. This is the first time I have seen an account of drunken fruit flies. And this account gives us the reason for the fruit flies drinking.
Did we really need a study of fruit flies drinking? Does this sound like something we thought we should know without a study? I had to read it twice to see why they did this study. They I started thinking they may be on to something. If lonely fruit flies drank more maybe it is not just us humans that would drink given the chance. Hang with me on this.
This study, done in San Francisco, where else, compared the drinking of two groups of fruit flies. Knowing that part of the world the way I do I am surprised that this experiment has not already been repeated using fraternity men. Maybe it has. Send in your comments if you know of a repeat of this experiment using some other animal.
Saying the fruit flies were lonely is, of course, my interpretation. They are really hard to interview and fruit flies rarely talk about their feelings. We have to guess from their actions how fruit flies are feeling, which may be another way in which fruit flies and male humans are alike.
One way in which fruit flies are unlike humans – sort of – is that female fruit flies who have mated once lose interest in mating again. So the researchers let the female fruit flies breed, presumably without the benefit of alcohol to make the male fruit flies look better.
Then they let some more male fruit flies have a go at the lady flies. The late-arriving male flies got turned down. This is where it starts to get interesting and makes some sense of why all the flies and the alcohol.
When the males who got to mate when offered the alcohol could take it or leave it. But the male fruit flies who got turned down drank a lot more.
The unmated male flies, I prefer to think of them as lonely, had much lower levels of one specific brain chemical. A similar chemical called Neuropeptide Y is found in humans. When humans are sad or depressed the levels of Neuropeptide Y drop.
The conclusion I draw from this research is that sadness, depression, and loneliness causes a physical craving for alcohol whether you are a human or a fruit fly.
Now that is no excuse for drinking, particularly excessive drinking. In humans, we know that sex alone is not enough to reduce the urge to drink. But what stands out most for me is that a lack of warm close relationships increases the risks of a negative emotion and that predisposes a human to substance abuse.
There you have it, get depressed, Neuropeptide Y drops, and you crave alcohol whether you are man or fruit fly.
As for those lonely fruit flies, what should we do? Maybe start a charity to form fruit fly bowling leagues or quidditch tournaments? Anyone know of a dating service for lonely fruit flies?
Till next time, keep working on your happy relationships.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
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