Hints for Alcoholism Genetics in Vervet Monkeys on the Island of St. Kitts
Posted Dec 26 2009 5:40pm
What? Alcoholic monkeys in the Caribbean? Is that a joke? No- read on to find out what the deal is with these drinking monkeys…
Alcoholism is a devastating disease that tends to run in families. Scientific studies support a genetic predisposition toward alcoholism addiction.
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On the Island of St. Kitts in the Carribean, Vervet monkeys are being studied for their alcohol consumption. Do monkeys have drinking problems? As a matter of fact, yes! The monkeys on this resort island, sneak and steal alcoholic drinks from the tourists. They used to feed off the fermented sugar cane left in the field, but now have developed signs of alcohol behavior.
What is fascinating is that their drinking habits mirror the statistics of human alcoholism addiction.
Frank Ervin, a professor of psychiatry and Dr. Roberta Palmour, a professor of human genetics at the University of McGill in Montreal are studying these small primates to get insight into the human genetics for alcoholism. They have divided the vervet monkey’s alcohol consumption into 4 categories:
Social drinkers- (this is the majority of the monkeys)- they prefer alcohol diluted in fruit juice. They will only drink in the company of other monkeys and not before lunch.
Regular drinkers- 15%like it “neat” or diluted in water.
Binge drinkers- 5% – the “serious” alcoholism abuse (i.e. alcoholism binge drinking). These monkeys drink alcohol fast, get in fights, and will drink alcohol until they pass out. There are more young males in this group (no surprise, is it?).
Teetotaler- 15% -prefer little or no alcohol.
These numbers are very similar to human alcohol abuse statistics. Dr. Palmour will publish the first map of the vervet monkey genome next year and will try and identify those genes involved in alcoholism addiction in these monkeys. There are 3 regions (including 300 genes) in the human genome involved with alcoholism.
These monkeys offer a way to study and identify more specific genes for “genetic alcoholism”. Scientific studies support that alcoholism does have a genetic component. The more we understand the genetics, the better the treatments will be in the future for this devastating disease that destroys families.