Parasite Infected Fruit Flies Use Alcohol to Self Medicate

A recent research has revealed a behavior that will help the parasite infected fruit flies to augment their survival rate. According to the research which was led by Todd Schlenke, the evolutionary geneticist, to kill the blood borne parasites fruit flies use alcohol. This process of self medication helps the fruit flies to increase their chances of survival. The research which is co-authored by Emory graduate student Neil Milan and under graduate student Balint Kacsoh will be published in the ‘Current Biology’.

This research beckons towards the fact that some organisms know how to utilize toxic substances which are available in the nature as medicines. Advocating the benefits and the extent of their research’s achievement, Todd Schlenke said, “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 parasite. It may be that fruit flies are uniquely adapted to using alcohol as medicine but our data raise an important question: Could other organisms, perhaps even humans, control blood-borne parasites through high doses of alcohol?”
use alcohol to self medicate

The research was carried on in the Schlenke laboratory and it used Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly, to study its immune system’s adaptation to the pathogens. The study explained that the rot, bacteria or fungi that grows on fermenting, overripe fruit is eaten by the fly larvae which prove that the flies certainly live in booze and are good at detoxifying alcohol. The fruit flies are mostly killed by endoparasitoid wasps which inject their eggs along with venom inside the fruit fly larvae and render the fly’s immune system weak. The wasp egg hatches and eats the fruit larva from inside out and gradually an adult wasp comes out under the effect of venom. Hence a strong battle goes on between the venom of the wasp and the fly’s immune system and if the fly wins then it’s due to the tapping of the toxic affects of the alcohol in the natural habitat of the fly.

Elaborating how the fly uses alcohol Scklenke said, “A developing wasp knocked out within an alcohol-consuming fly larva dies in a particularly horrible way. The wasp’s internal organs disperse and appear to be ejected out of its anus. It’s an unusual phenotype that we haven’t seen in our wasps before.” To know further how alcohol may control pathogens in other organisms as well, the researches think that their study will be quite helpful.

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