Boozing up to boost survival rates

Fruit flies purposefully seek out alcohol to kill parasitic wasps that live in their bloodstream. Image: Shutterstock

Fruit flies use alcohol as a drug to kill parasites.

Alcohol consumption has some serious health benefits, at least for fruit flies. Fruit flies purposefully seek out alcohol to kill parasitic wasps that live in their bloodstream, thus increasing their survival rate. A study conducted by Researchers at Emory University, in the US, found that environmental alcohol protects fruit flies from wasps, and that, even after being infected, fruit fly consumption of alcohol leads to death of the wasps growing within them.

Wasps are extremely deadly to fruit flies. Wasp females will lay eggs in fruit fly larvae, and their young hatchlings will then eat the flies from the inside out. But Drosophilia melanogaster has developed a tolerance for alcohol, and this evolutionary characteristic apparently protects it from parasites. “It seems possible that this ability might protect the flies from generalist parasites. In fact, those parasites might have even helped push the flies toward an alcohol-drinking existence,” said Todd Schlenke, an assistant professor at Emory University, on the University’s website.

To conduct the experiment, researchers used a Petri dish that was divided in two: one half contained a six per cent alcohol mixture and the other an alcohol-free concoction. The fruit flies were then allowed to roam about the dish. Twenty-four hours later, the researchers discovered the infected fruit flies were on the alcohol side — the healthy ones were on the other side. “The infected fruit flies really do seem to purposely consume alcohol, and the alcohol consumption correlates to much higher survival rates,” Shlenke said.

The study raises an important question: could other organisms, perhaps humans, control blood-borne parasites through high doses of alcohol? Fruit flies, whose diet mainly consists of fermenting fruit, naturally have a high-alcohol diet that can range from five to 15 per cent and, therefore, are accustomed and rather good at detoxifying alcohol. “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,” Shlenke said.

Although the researchers believe that their results may have bigger implications, alcohol’s ability to fight off blood-borne parasites in humans is inconclusive, and it is likely to be explored in future studies. By Alice Orszulock
Source: Science Daily

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