Father: Son, you’re an alcoholic.
Son: It’s actually your fault, dad.
Father: But I don’t even drink
Son: Well then it’s probably grandpa’s fault.
Is this a son in denial or is he making these claims based on some facts?
We have all heard that alcoholism is hereditary, but who would have thought that a rodent would serve as living proof. Some of the brightest minds in the United Kingdom discovered a specific gene, which if faulty, can cause excessive drinking, if you’re a mouse. However, there is a possibility that this gene could exist in humans, so the next time your parents/grandparents/uncles/aunts raise a finger at you for drinking too much, you can point them to this research.
The consortium of researchers from five UK universities – Newcastle University, Imperial College London, Sussex University, University College London and University of Dundee as well as the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit at Harwell, assembled a bunch of lab rats to conduct experiments.
Chair of the MRC’s Neurosciences and Mental Health Board Professor Hugh Perry said that if a similar gene was found in humans, it could help us to identify those most at risk of developing an addiction
Their findings showed that normal mice drink little or no alcohol when offered a free choice between a bottle of water and the strong stuff. However, their friends with a genetic mutation to the gene Gabrb1 took to the booze like a duck to water. They chose to consume almost 85% of their daily fluid as drinks containing the same amount of alcohol as wine.
Working at the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, a team, led by Professor Howard Thomas from Imperial College London, tested the mice for alcohol preference. He introduced subtle mutations into the genetic code at random throughout the genome and this led researchers to identify Gabrb1, the gene which changes alcohol preference so strongly that mice carrying either of two single base-pair point mutations preferred drinking alcohol (10% ethanol v/v - about the strength of wine), over water.
Not only did the mice get a little tipsy, but they also showed that they were willing to work for their booze by a pushing lever to obtain the drink. In fact, they continued to do so for extended periods. The alcoholic rodents voluntarily consumed enough alcohol in one hour that they had difficulty coordinating their movements.
So while it may be in the genes, is there anything one can do it fix the ‘fault’? “The results of this long-running project suggest that, in some individuals, there may be a genetic component. If further research confirms a similar mechanism in humans, it could help ensure effective treatment,” Professor Hugh Perry concluded.