Back in the day (summer of ’08), the original Appletree gang got a bit tipsy one night and decided it was an utterly brilliant idea to get our cat drunk with us. Many valiant attempts were made, but the ever discerning Tutley never fell for any of our oh-so-clever tricks.

I’m assuming Ulrike Heberlein of the University of California also thought getting fruit flies drunk was a terribly bright idea, though (unlike us) she both succeeded and managed to make a valid scientific study out of it.

Perhaps I should be taking notes…

Anyway, Heberlein was supposedly studying how social experiences affect addiction (which is just another facet of her previous research in the genetic factors surrounding addiction). Particularly alcoholism. And it only made sense to study a social experience that often ties in with alcohol- sex.

Essentially, Heberlein wanted to know if sex (or a lack of it) directly impacted the amount an individual would drink. So, she got some fruit flies plastered.

It might seem strange to use fruit flies in place of humans in an experiment, but despite how odd it sounds, fruit flies are frequently used in research (remember that sleep study we looked at a few months ago?). And, in this case, the results could translate quite nicely to humans.

But, more on that in a minute.

Before Heberlein got her fruit flies drunk, she first let them commence the sexin’. Well, half of them. One half of the flies were placed in a container with females that had recently mated. Because there is a peptide in male fruit fly sperm that interacts with the female’s brain and causes her to reject all other males, all the little guys placed in with these females were told to FUCK OFF in fly talk. The other half of the male flies were placed in a container with virginal lady flies and proceeded to get their freak on.

Heberlein then took all the male flies (sexed and unsexed alike) and plopped them in a vial with two types of liquid food- regular food and food mixed with ethanol.

Turns out, the males who had just been rejected showed a much higher preference for the boozy option.

So… why?

We always talk about folks “drowning their sorrows” in a pint at a local bar after some dame/bloke breaks their heart, but what is it about that sweet, sweet alcohol that causes us to gravitate toward it during these times of sexual duress? Heberlein posits that, in flies, it’s neuropeptide F.

What is neuropeptide F? It’s a neuropeptide that’s part of the fly brain’s reward system. The flies that had mated exhibited a much higher level of neuropeptide F than those who had not. To test if there was a direct connection between neuropeptide F and excessive imbibing, Heberlein genetically fiddled with her flies, increasing the neuropeptide F in the unsexed flies (which caused them to drink less) and lowering it in the sexed flies (causing them to drink more).

Yep, there was a definite correlation between neuropeptide F levels and alcohol consumption.

This can (potentially) transfer over to humans. The human version of neuropeptide F is neuropeptide Y. Neuropeptide Y is already tied to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. This evidence, coupled with the recent fruit fly study, suggests that neuropeptide Y could also have a direct link to alcoholism.

You know what that means, right?




Shocking, I know.


More importantly, I think we’re all wondering… just how funny was it to watch those fruit flies get drunk?

“The first time I saw a drunk fly, I thought: ‘Oh my god, this is just like humans,” [Heberlein] recounted.

According to Heberlein the flies become uncoordinated, hyperactive and uninhibited.

“They bump into each other and the walls. If you give them more alcohol they become lethargic and uncoordinated. They fall over, pick themselves up and fall over again. Eventually they pass out.”

I bet that was fucking hilarious.

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