Fruit flies, honeybees, and alcohol

Whilst writing my thesis, I came across an interesting paper discussing how you can get fruit flies hooked on alcohol, whilst honeybees will consistently turn their noses up to a tipple unless you literally give them nothing else to drink.

Drosophila [fruit flies] develop a preference for alcohol that increases with repeated alcohol consumption, and prefer consuming a liquid fly diet containing alcohol to a liquid diet on its own. Honey bees, on the other hand, will consume sucrose solutions with low concentrations of ethanol, but only if there are no alternatives.

As they went on to elaborate, this response makes perfect sense when you consider the fact that ethanol is often associated with decomposition. That’s perfect for a fruit fly searching for an overripe piece of fruit.

However, for the honeybee, for whom alcohol is an impairment, it would appear there is a strong selective bias towards avoiding alcohol.

It’s a good example of how important it is to understand the system (in this case the model organism) from which your data is coming from. Being aware of these differences can help you turn them into an asset, rather than a source of confounding. After all, as the authors of this paper remark:

Some animals might not be suited for studying particular aspects of drug effects with certain drugs.

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Computational biology PhD candidate at the Australian National University. I love writing (both articles and software), learning more about the world around us, and beekeeping. I also write for BioSky.co

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