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Drunken flies and the alcoholics’ genome

Sun, 11th Nov 2007

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US Scientists have sequenced the catalogue of more than 30 genes that are influenced by exposure to alcohol. The study was carried out in drosphila, fruit flies – often used in genetic studies as their genome is very simple to model, and they share many of their genes with humans. The researchers suggest that this could provide a starting point for genetic studies of alcohol, which could eventually identify with genetic predisposition to alcohol addiction.

Alcoholic fliesTo measure the effect of alcohol on the flies, the scientists, from North Carolina State University, first had to get them drunk in a piece of apparatus they termed an ‘inebriometer’. This is a tiny tube-shaped pub for flies. Along the inside of the vertical tube are small shelves that slant downwards. The flies cling to the shelves, while the tube is filled with alcohol fumes until the flies are drunk enough to fall off their perches. This gives the researchers an organised stack of flies – lightweights at the bottom and the most hardened drinkers at the top.

The scientists then selected and bred the most booze-resilient and the most lightweight strains of flies, and compared their genomes to examine which genes were responsible for one fly’s ability to drink (or at least absorb) its buddy to the bottom of the tube.

The team also found that flies could be genetically mutated to respond differently to alcohol by inserting additional copies of these genes.


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