Researchers from Emory University have found that fruit flies infected by parasites consume alcohol to self-medicate.
During an experiment, they used a bisected petri dish filled with the yeast that fruit flies normally eat. The yeast on one side of the dish was mixed with 6 per cent alcohol, while the yeast on the other side remained alcohol-free. The researchers then released fruit fly larvae into the dish, allowing them to freely move to either side. After 24 hours, 80 per cent of the fruit fly larvae that were infected with wasps were on the alcohol side of the dish, while only 30 per cent of the non-infected fruit fly larvae were on the other side.
The researchers had conducted a study on Drosophila Melanogaster, the common fruit fly that is found swirling around brown banana, making them susceptible to parasitic infection. The parasite injects their eggs inside the fruit fly larvae, along with venom that suppresses the immune response of the fly. When the parasites' egg hatches, the larva begins to eat the fruit fly from the inside. Eventually, an adult parasite emerges from the remains of the fruit fly pupa. Fruit flies have found a way to cure themselves by consuming alcohol.
According to the researchers, a few fruit flies that have a good immune system can overcome the effects of parasite venom and kill the parasite eggs.
"We believe our results are the first to show that alcohol consumption can have a protective effect against infectious disease, and in particular against blood-borne parasites," says Todd Schlenke, the evolutionary geneticist at the Emory University. "It may be that fruit flies are uniquely adapted to using alcohol as medicine."
"The infected fruit flies really do seem to purposely consume alcohol, and the alcohol consumption correlates to much higher survival rates," he said.
"The wasps aren't as good as the flies at handling alcohol," he said.
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