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Here's What Happens When Fish Get Drunk

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Let it be known: Humans are not the only ones whose egos are bolstered by booze. A recent study suggests the humble zebrafish becomes a more confident leader when intoxicated.

How does one get a zebrafish drunk, you ask? A team of researchers led by Maurizio Porfiri, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering’s Dynamical Systems Laboratory, did so by letting them swim in a solution of ethanol. The solution ranged in alcohol concentration (0.00, 0.25, 0.50, and 1.00 percent ethanol) and some fish got stronger solutions than others. After a fish marinated in the sauce for five minutes, researchers dropped it into fresh water with a school of sober fish and monitored their response to their boozed up buddy.

The results showed that, much like humans, when zebrafish have a slight buzz (those exposed to the .25 percent and .50 percent ethanol concentration), they throw their inhibitions out the window. They swim faster, and show little fear or hesitation. And when they’re around their peers, they go even faster—and surprisingly, the sober fish increase their speed to keep up.

The tipsy fish also showed signs of leadership; its assertive movements steered the direction of the entire group. When the intoxicated fish turned, so did the others. Researchers think this may be because they were influenced by the fish’s alcohol-induced boldness, which they might have interpreted as a sign of leadership.

But, as with humans, it pays to know your limits. Fish exposed to the 1.00 percent ethanol solution lost their leadership skills and lagged behind the other fish, seemingly a bit stumbly and slow. Researchers hope the study can lead to future revelations about how the behaviors of one drunken individual influence an entire group.

But why are scientists getting fish wasted in the first place? It turns out, we’ve been doing it for a while.

Zebrafish, specifically, have a lot of similarities to humans when it comes to development, behavior, and genetics, says Sachit Butail, coauthor of the new paper. And of course, alcoholism and the impacts of drinking on humans are incredibly relevant to modern society. We’ve been studying how alcohol affects zebrafish embryos for years. In 2011, researchers exposed embryos to small amounts of alcohol and found it caused them to be more anti-social as adults. This could lead to new insights into how a pregnant woman’s alcohol consumption impacts unborn babies.

Just last year, researchers—including some also behind the new study—got zebrafish drunk before dropping a robotic decoy fish, designed to look like and act like a fertile female, into their tank. Sober fish eagerly welcomed the new robotic companion. But when under the influence, they avoided it.

But the real question here is this: Do fish get hangovers? Sachit said he couldn’t speculate, but that “they get back to complete normalcy after a day or so.” I guess they really aren’t so different from us.

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7 Surprising Uses for Tequila
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Happy National Tequila Day! While you could celebrate by having a few drinks, you could also skip the hangover by unlocking one of tequila's amazing abilities outside of a glass. Many spirits are useful for activities beyond sipping (vodka, for example, is a great stain and odor remover), but tequila holds some particularly magical powers. Here are just a few of them.

1. SYNTHETIC BAUBLE

In 2008, a team of scientists in Mexico discovered that when the heated vapor from an 80-proof tequila blanco was combined with a silicon or stainless steel substrate, it resulted in the formation of diamond films. These films can be used in commercial applications, such as electrical insulators, or to create one big fake diamond. Who knew that spending $50 on a bottle of Don Julio was such a wise investment?

2. ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCE

Keeping with the science theme: In 2011, researchers at England’s University of Oxford suggested that we may one day be gassing up our cars with tequila. They identified agave, the plant from which tequila is produced, as a potential biofuel source—and a particularly attractive one, as the plant itself is not consumed by humans and can thrive in desert climates.

3. WEIGHT LOSS SUPPLEMENT

Scientists have long promoted the potential benefits of the agave plant for its ability to help dissolve fats and lower cholesterol. The bad news? These properties get a bit diluted when the plant is distilled into alcohol. Even more so when it's whipped into a sugary margarita.

4. SLEEP AID

Take three or more shots of tequila and you’re bound to pass out. A single shot can have the same effect—just not in that drunken stupor kind of way. Relaxation is one of the positive side effects of tequila drinking; a small amount (1 to 1.5 ounces) before bedtime can reportedly help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

5. COLON CLEANSER

Too much of a good thing may not bring a welcome turn of events for your liver … but your colon will thank you! Researchers at Mexico’s University of Guadalajara have identified the blue agave as a potentially helpful source for delivering drugs to the colon in order to treat colitis, IBS, Crohn’s disease and even cancer.

6. DIABETES PREVENTATIVE

If Ernest Hemingway had known about the healing properties of tequila, his signature drink might have been a margarita instead of a daiquiri. In 2010, experiments conducted at Mexico’s Polytechnic Institute of Guanajuato revealed that the agave plant (which is high in fructans, a fructose polymer) could stimulate the GLP-1 hormone, aiding in increased insulin production.

7. COLD REMEDY

“Plenty of liquids” is a well-known remedy for getting oneself out from under the weather. But expanding that definition to include a kicked-up shot of tequila makes a day laid out on the couch sound much more appealing. In the 1930s, doctors in Mexico recommended the following concoction to fight off a cold.

.5 ounce of tequila blanco
.5 ounce of agave nectar (to eliminate bacteria and soothe sore throats)
.5 ounce of fresh lime juice (for Vitamin C) 

Though some people (including tequila companies) swear by its healing powers, others say it's hogwash.

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What's the Kennection? #158
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