Friday, May 12, 2006

Drunken monkey style

Friday is no day for serious science, so instead of following up on the quantum post, I'm going to let you in on a monkey's secret weakness. Don't say I never did anything to stop the coming invasion.

As I've mentioned, my best friend is a little phobic of lab monkeys, on the principle that they're way too smart for their own good. So she must have been relieved, yesterday, to be able to send me this article about Lab Monkey Happy Hour. It appears that there's a certain consistency in primate alcoholism -- just like humans, rhesus macaques' drinking habits are correlated with genetic and environmental factors. When given regular access to alcohol (in what the researchers seriously refer to as a "happy hour"), macaques who were housed alone, or who had low social standing when living in a group, put away a lot more moonshine. In addition to the losers (my phrase, not the researchers'), there were also the congenital lushes, who drank heavily regardless of social factors:
"The singly housed monkeys certainly drank more than the socially housed monkeys -- at least two to three-fold more," Chen told Discovery News. "With the socially housed monkeys, there are a number of factors that can potentially compete with access to alcohol, such as social status or dominance ranking."

Lower-ranked monkeys and males tended to drink more overall, but certain individuals consistently drank more than others, regardless of status or housing conditions.
In other words, this is basically a perfect mirror of human alcoholism patterns. Some people are genetically predisposed, and will drink more under any circumstances than someone with teetotalling genes (though they may never become habitual tipplers). Put a person in reduced social circumstances, though -- a studio apartment, a menial job, graduate school -- and their intake will probably increase (though the quality of the hootch probably won't). Even better, some simians get sloshed in response to stress:
In yet another study, the scientists gave a group of male monkeys 24-hour access to the beverage dispensers. According to the researchers, a spike in consumption immediately followed the facility’s working hours.

"Like humans, monkeys are more likely to drink after stressful periods, such as soon after the daily 8-5 testing hours and after a long week of testing," said Chen.
I love the image of a rhesus macaque dragging itself back to the cage at the end of the workday, kicking off its shoes, and groaning "god, I need a cocktail." I feel for you, little monkey dude. I may not be singly housed, but I usually want a cocktail at the end of the day.

The most important thing here, though, is that we know how to stop the monkeys if they get too uppity, with their transplanted heads and their telepathic arms. I mean, these little guys can be serious boozehounds:
In the study subjects, "blood alcohol levels often exceeded the .08 percent level, which is the legal limit for most states in the U.S.," said Scott Chen, one of the study’s authors and a researcher at the National Institutes of Health Animal Center in Maryland.

The study, recently published in the journal Methods, also found that booze affects monkeys much the same way it affects people.

"It was not unusual to see some of the monkeys stumble and fall, sway, and vomit," Chen added. "In a few of our heavy drinkers, they would drink until they fell asleep."
I only hope that, when the lab monkey revolution does come, we have the presence of mind to inundate their ranks with tasty beverages. Monkey happy hour: more than a good idea. It could save your life.


Blogger Laura said...

That is basically the best photo known to man.

5/15/2006 6:45 PM  

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