Drunk-Resistant Worms Become a Reality

Inside the Congress Street offices of Stantec, thousands of workers toil in the kitchen, munching their way through leafy lunch leftovers and used office paper to turn trash into compost. These red wiggler worms have helped the engineering and architectural firm cut down on waste by 10 to 20 percent, estimates architect and worm caretaker Jenna Beltram. Employees use the compost and resulting liquid fertilizer, known as “tea,’’ to tend plants at the office and at home. What started out as 1,000 worms in 2007, when several Stantec employees decided to do something about the banana peels and strawberry tops in the trash, has grown into a workforce of 12,000.“They’re kind of the office pets,’’ Beltram said. “Everyone is invested in their well-being.’’
Huge amount of earthworms –iStock

Apparently, humans are not the only creatures that can get drunk. Worms can too.

But in a recent study, scientists at the University of Texas at Austin said they have found a way to alter the genetic makeup of Caenorhabditis elegans worms to make them drunk-resistent, according to The Verge.

Scientists found that when worms are put in a petri disk with alcohol, they get drunk, beginning to crawl more slowly and lose the ability to wiggle from side to side as much, The Verge reported.

“This is the first example of altering a human alcohol target to prevent intoxication in an animal,’’ said corresponding author, Jon Pierce-Shimomura, assistant professor in the university’s College of Natural Sciences and Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research in a press release.


Genetically altering the worm did not have any other harmful effects, The Verge reported:

“Moreover, ‘the way we tweaked it did not perturb the normal function of the target, allowing it continue functioning normally in the worm’s brain,’ Pierce-Shimomura said. This is important because the channel that the researchers modified — called the BK channel SLO-1 — also plays a role in regulating the activity of blood vessels, neurons, and the urinary tract. ‘It is remarkable that [a] mutation … could have such a dramatic specific effect on ethanol modulation while minimally affecting basal BK channel function,’ the researchers wrote in the study.’’

The results of the studysaid this discovery could eventually lead to “new drugs to treat the symptoms of people going through alcohol withdrawal.’’

According to the press release, “Pierce-Shimomura speculated that their research could even be used to develop a ‘James Bond’ drug someday, which would enable a spy to drink his opponent under the table, without getting drunk himself.’’

The modification would not work exactly the same on humans, though. Researchers changed the worm’s genes so alcohol didn’t bind to the worm brain, but for humans “there are a variety of things in our brains that control alcohol carvings, tolerance and withdraw,’’Smithsonian Magazine reported.

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