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This worm is sober. (© David Spears FRPS FRMS/Corbis)

Worms Can Get Drunk, But Not These Mutant Worms

The gene could also, theoretically, be modified in humans to prevent some of the effects of booze

smithsonian.com

Here is how to get a worm drunk, according to the Verge: put it in a little plastic dish with some alcohol. Here's what it's like to be a drunk worm: it means not being able to wiggle as much, not being able to crawl as fast, and not being able to lay eggs.

Here is how to keep a worm, who likes to hang out in boozy petri-dishes, from getting drunk: modify the worm's genes so that alcohol doesn't bind to its worm brain in the usual way. This week, researchers at the University of Texas published a study in which they successfully did just that. The molecular channel that the researchers modified to behave differently in the presence of alcohol is the same in both worms and humans.

The researchers took a brute force approach to finding just the right worm mutations, they explain to the Verge. They tried hundreds of gene modifications to find the tweak that would prevent intoxication while also not negatively affecting the worm's other functions. 

The same trick won't work so simply on humans, though. There are a variety of things in our brains that control alcohol cravings, tolerance and withdraw. Looking at how the same genetic mutation affects mice may one day help scientists tease out a way to treat alcohol addition in people. A drug that prevents a person from getting drunk could, potentially, prevent a person from needing to drink. 

The scientists have also dreamt up another totally realistic use for such a drug, according to the University of Texas

[One of the scientists] speculated that their research could even be used to develop a 'James Bond' drug someday, which would enable a spy to drink his opponent under the table, without getting drunk himself. 

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About Shannon Palus

Shannon Palus is a science writer, and a researcher for Popular Science. Her work has appeared in Discover, Slate, Ars Technica, and elsewhere. She is based in Philadelphia.

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