Tipsy bees aid research

This different sort of buzz may unlock secrets about alcohol addiction

Nov 15, 2004 - Researchers at Ohio State University have found that honey bees react to alcohol in the same way as people do, and that bees may help scientists understand how alcohol addiction affects humans.


"Alcohol affects bees and humans in similar ways - it impairs motor functioning along with learning and memory processing," said study co-author Julie Mustard. "Knowing how chronic alcohol use affects genes and proteins in the honey bee brain may help us eventually understand how alcoholism affects memory and behavior in humans."

Researchers gave the bees various levels of ethanol and monitored 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.

The level of ethanol in the bees' hemolymph (the equivalent of blood) increased with time and the amount consumed. Bees that consumed the higher concentrations of ethanol spent the least time flying or grooming and spent more time on their backs.

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

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

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