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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 October, 2004, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Bees 'hold key to alcohol misuse'
Swarm of bees
Bees react to alcohol in a similar way to humans
Scientists believe the honey bee may hold the key to understanding how alcohol addiction affects humans.

Researchers at Ohio State University in the US have found that bees react to alcohol in the same way as people do.

During the experiments, bees were given ethanol - the intoxicating ingredient of alcohol. The team found it affected their flying, walking and grooming.

More research on bees is now planned to try to establish how alcohol affects memory and behaviour in humans.

Study co-author Dr Julie Mustard, an entomology researcher at the university, said: "Alcohol affects bees and humans in similar ways - it impairs motor functioning along with learning and memory processing.

They couldn't coordinate their legs well enough to flip themselves back over again
Julie Mustard, Ohio State University

"On the molecular level, the brains of honey bees and humans work the same.

"Knowing how chronic alcohol use affects genes and proteins in the honey bee brain may help us eventually understand how alcoholism affects memory and behaviour in humans."

Researchers gave the bees various levels of ethanol and monitored for 40 minutes how much time the bees spent flying, walking, grooming and even upside down.

The bees were secured to a small harness made from a piece of drinking straw and fed solutions of sucrose and ethanol. The ethanol concentration ranged from zero to 100.

A glass of wine is equivalent to a concentration of 10%.

Lost control

The level of ethanol in the bees' hemolymph - the equivalent of blood - increased with time and the amount consumed.

The team found the bees which had consumed the higher concentrations of ethanol spent the least time flying or grooming and spent more time on their backs.

Dr Mustard said: "These bees had lost postural control. They couldn't coordinate their legs well enough to flip themselves back over again."

Fellow researcher Geraldine Wright, also from the university, said the study should explain how alcohol affects behaviour.

"Honey bees are very social animals. We want to learn if ethanol consumption makes the normally calm, friendly honey bee more aggressive."

An Alcohol Concern spokeswoman welcomed the research, but said: "Very little can be drawn from a single animal-based study at this stage.

"The researchers themselves stress that more work is needed to identify all the factors that link alcohol consumption and the workings of the brain."


SEE ALSO:
Women 'better at holding drink'
11 Oct 04  |  Health
Public backs alcohol crackdown
08 Sep 04  |  Health


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