Researchers at North Carolina State University have found a genetic 'switch' in fruit flies that plays an important role in making flies more tolerant to alcohol. If you're reading this site, you will not that doesn't automatically translate to humans but a counterpart human gene contributes to a shift from metabolizing alcohol to the formation of fat in heavy drinkers. This shift can lead to fatty liver syndrome – a precursor to cirrhosis.
In the Genetics study, they measured the time it takes for flies to stagger due to alcohol intake while simultaneously identifying changes in the expression of all their genes. They used statistical methods to identify genes that work together to help the flies adapt to alcohol exposure. In looking at corresponding human genes, a counterpart gene called ME1 was associated with alcohol consumption in humans, as people with certain variations of the gene showed a tendency to drink stronger alcoholic beverages.
"Our findings point to metabolic pathways associated with proclivity for alcohol consumption that may ultimately be implicated in excessive drinking," says Dr. Robert Anholt, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Biology and Genetics at NC State. "Translational studies like this one, in which discoveries from model organisms can be applied to insights in human biology, can help us understand the balance between nature and nurture, why we behave the way we do, and – for better or worse – what makes us tick."
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