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Sex-Deprived Flies Seek Swig Solace

Sexually frustrated fruit flies preferred alcohol-laced food more than their satisfied compatriots did. Cynthia Graber reports

You know the scene—it’s a Friday night, and your date just canceled. You’re bummed, maybe a little hurt. You think now might be a good time for a beer, maybe a bourbon. And you have good company: fruit flies. Turns out that sexually deprived male fruit flies hit the bottle more frequently than sexually satisfied ones.

Researchers placed one group of males repeatedly in a container with females who’d already mated. Those females were no longer receptive to sex. So the males learned to stop trying.

The scientists placed another group with virgin females, who were receptive. Then they offered the two groups of males a choice of food. One choice was supplemented with ethanol. And the sexually frustrated flies dove for the drink in significantly greater numbers.

This behavior was also predicted by a particular neuropeptide in the flies’ brains. The sexually deprived flies had a low level of the molecule. The scientists found they could moderate the flies’ alcohol-seeking behavior just by upping this molecule. The research was published in the journal Science. [G. Shohat-Ophir et al., "Sexual Deprivation Increases Ethanol Intake in Drosophila"]

The finding could help explain how addiction may be determined both by the brain and by social conditions—especially when those are tough to swallow.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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