Birds, elephants and monkeys have been observed crawling the ground in an effort to find fruits and berries: after a natural fermentation process, they begin to produce alcohol , which they seem to like.
Some mammals, such as elephants, rhinos, or armadillos, actually get drunk quite easily. A new study seems to clarify the reason: the ADH7 gene has lost its function in them and does not metabolize alcohol well .
Metabolization of alcohol
We already knew that animals like to get drunk (and also masturbate), but not the reason that it is so easy for them to do so in some cases .
The secret seems to lie in 10 independent alterations of the ADH7 gene during the history of mammalian evolution. Inheriting that dysfunctional gene could make it difficult for their bodies to break down ethanol, according to molecular anthropologist Mareike Janiak , from the University of Calgary in Canada, and leader of the aforementioned study.
This genetic alteration could allow ethanol to accumulate more easily in the bloodstream of these animals.
This low tolerance to alcohol, in fact, forces us to revise the idea that elephants, for example, enjoy getting drunk: if they have a low tolerance for alcohol, this does not allow eating too much fallen and fermented fruit , which is a nuisance when you have hunger.
By contrast, humans and non-human African primates suffer from the reverse situation: a mutation that makes their ADH7 40 times more efficient at processing ethanol than a typical mammalian version .
Thus, finding this genetic alteration in the African elephant raises at least questions about the old myths about the addiction to drunkenness of these animals. Perhaps the huge liver of elephants would play an important role in detoxifying alcohol . Be that as it may, we will have to continue investigating intoxicated animals in order to get to the bottom of the matter.