In a paper just published in Experimental Biology, Matthew Swierzbinski, Andrew Lazarchik and Jens Herberholz of the University of Maryland have shown that a sociable upbringing does indeed increase sensitivity to alcohol. At least, it does if you are a crayfish.
The three researchers’ purpose in studying drunken crayfish is to understand better how alcohol induces behavioural changes. Most recreational drugs, from cocaine and heroin to nicotine and caffeine, have well-understood effects on known receptor molecules in brain cells. That is not, though, true of ethanol, as the type of alcohol which gets people drunk is known to chemists. Ethanol’s underlying molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. But one thing which is known is that crayfish are affected by the same concentrations of the stuff as those that affect humans. Since crayfish also have large, easy-to-study nerve cells that can be examined for clues as to ethanol’s molecular mechanisms, Mr Swierzbinski, Mr Lazarchik and Dr Herberholz are using them to try to track those mechanisms down.Yes, you read that right. These researchers got crayfish drunk as part of their research (if interested, you can read the paper here - it's open access). Is anyone else imagining the research team meeting where they came up with this research idea was some variant on this:
"Man, we always think of so many brilliant things down here". Like getting crayfish drunk.
There is a serious side to the research, though I'm not sure what it's telling us at this early stage.