Okay, okay, first things first — no one reading this should run out and grab the Smirnoff in the name of hematologic health. (If you’re of legal drinking age and want to do shots responsibly for some other reason, that’s your business.)
But it is worth noting the recent discovery that fruit flies like to get their buzz on (pun alert) to protect themselves against parasites trying to take up residence in their blood. While there’s quite a bit of difference between us and fruit flies, it’s definitely worth considering whether we or other organisms could derive similar benefits from alcohol consumption in the fight against certain blood-borne diseases.
Besides, if you get a little crazy on Thirsty Thursday and you have to explain your splitting headache to your boss on Friday, this post might give you a new excuse to try.
[But no, really, drink responsibly.]
There are a million reasons I can think of to pity fruit flies, but the latest one is this: certain types of wasps try to deposit their eggs in fruit flies’ babies, in hopes that the baby wasps will hatch and eat the baby fruit flies from the inside out, enabling a well-fed adult wasp to emerge. Here’s a visual, to make this sadder:
But take heart, dear reader! Those fruit fly larvae are not as defenseless as they may seem. In fact, they’ve evolved for just such occasions. You know how those tiny flies start to hover around your fruit basket when it’s been out for more than a few days? Those are fruit flies, and their larvae often live off of rotting fruit that can have over 5% alcohol content due to fermentation.
Researchers at Emory University decided to put some larvae on a 6% alcohol diet, and others on a 0% alcohol diet. The larvae on the 6% alcohol diet survived wasp infection 60% of the time, while none of the larvae on a nonalcoholic diet lived once infected. In other words, baby fruit flies that are drunk out of their minds are way better at surviving attacks by parasites. Wasps are not adapted to the high alcohol content of rotting, fermented fruit, so when they try to lay their eggs in fruit fly larvae that have gorged themselves on 5% alcohol all day, those eggs just don’t stand a chance.
Since humans have not evolved to eat rotten fruit all day and detoxify that much alcohol, we probably shouldn’t run out and get hammered when we’re trying to avoid malaria. However, it could be in our interests for someone to look into the potential benefits of moderate alcohol consumption in fighting parasite infection…any volunteers?
Milan NF, Kacsoh BZ, & Schlenke TA (2012). Alcohol Consumption as Self-Medication against Blood-Borne Parasites in the Fruit Fly. Current biology : CB, 22 (6), 488-93 PMID: 22342747