Fruit flies get drunk for science

Something is buzzing around the psychology department, and alcohol is involved. Assistant professor of psychological science, Dr. Greg Engel, and four university students are studying the behavioral effects of alcohol, and to do this, they are using fruit flies. Engel’s work here at the university branches from his post-doctoral research at the University of California, Merced.

 “The question we’re investigating is: What are some of the genetic factors that influence the behavioral response to alcohol?” said Engel. “The effects of alcohol are behavioral effects.”

According to Engel, he has identified one specific gene, called Nplp3, of which not much is known. Nplp3 has become the focus of this investigation, according to Engel.

“What we’ve been investigating… is whether changing Nplp3 can alter the behavioral response to alcohol,” Engel said.

One of the four students working on this project is David Carlino, a psychology major with a background in biotechnology.

“He (Engel) was working with the psychology department, and he wanted to incorporate more laboratory kind of work,” said Carlino. “I saw an opportunity to also utilize some of my laboratory skills from the past in the psych program.”

Carlino has been with the project since the beginning, in the fall semester.

“It’s logistically very doable,” Carlino said about the project.

            The team has only run preliminary tests which have not shown any statistical significance as of yet, but Carlino is hopeful.

            “The data looks promising,” Carlino said, “and we’re going to change our methods, and… increase our study power.”

            Engel hopes that his research helps create an understanding of what is going on in the human body genetically.

            “I think it’s cool to know that when you drink, you’re affecting the way your neurons work,” Engel said. “The behaviors we engage in at any point during our day are affecting, and being affected by, the fundamental unit of information in the genes.”

            On a lighter note, Engel offered his own tip to get rid of fruit flies should they invade your home.

            “If you get a fruit fly infestation, try pouring boiling water down the drain,” Engel said with a laugh.


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