You can lead a vole to water...
New study finds that voles prefer alcohol to water and mimic unseemly human drinking behaviors.
Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 10:25 AM
Humans aren't the only species susceptible to cheating on a partner after a bender, according to a story in the Oregonian. Prairie voles typically mate for life and raise babies together, but they have a tendency to cheat on their mates with other voles when they hit the sauce. According to the Oregonian, "the overlap with human tendencies makes the mouse-like rodent an ideal model to study the social aspects of excessive drinking."
It seems the voles prefer alcohol to water, specifically drinks with about 6 percent alcohol, according to a study conducted at Oregon Health and Science University. Researchers are excited to discover an animal with a proclivity for beer because traditional lab animals don't like the stuff. The fact that voles are also social bonders helps researchers study these aspects of human behavior.
The article notes that animals that shared cages with siblings drank more. In the study, each animal got its own pair of bottles (booze and water) and because the bottles were caged off from the other animals, researchers could note how much each creature drank. The article says that, "some voles drank so much they staggered and fell and had trouble getting back on their feet." While all of the voles drank some beer, the voles nearly always drank the same amount of alcohol as a cage-mate.
The researchers are unsure how the same-cage animals matched alcohol drinking habits, but the article said that only alcohol promotes the behavior. In a test done with sugared water, the voles each drank different amounts and didn't try to compete with one another.
The Oregonian suggests that human behavior is far more complex, but that the voles can provide a useful probe into "social dimensions of drinking." The voles allow researchers to perform social drinking experiments that they couldn't perform on human volunteers. The study suggests an eventual effect of the research could help alcoholics stop drinking.
The article explains that similar pathways in the brain affect monogamous behavior and addictive behavior. Neuroscientists at Florida State University are using voles to study amphetamine-seeking in "the same way [the brain's signaling pathways] reinforce social bonding." Scientists suspect that dopamine signaling may give certain animals a feeling of reward from alcohol (perhaps explaining why they drink more when housed in pairs).