One More Reason to Protect the Rainforests: Clues about Handling Our Liquor!


Because they're home to creatures such as the pen-tailed tree shrew, a tiny mouse-like creature with a feathery tail that dwells in the tropical rainforests of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. They're not only cute enough to star in animated movies like Madagascar, but guess what, they can even teach us a thing or two about how to hold our drinks!

A recent paper released by scientists from Bayreuth University in Germany found that Malaysian pen-tailed tree shrews could ingest large amounts of alcohol from fermented palm nectar - an intake level comparable to humans downing nine glasses of wine - without getting intoxicated. Attempts to replicate such a feat by other mammals, including humans, would have seriously detrimental health effects.


The findings not only overturn existing theories about the evolutionary role of alcohol consumption in humans, but may also provide clues for devising strategies to cope with alcohol-related problems.

For example, by examining how the creatures' metabolic processes cope with excessive alcohol, new medication may be developed to treat hangovers.

The shrew's positive adaptation to large alcohol doses may shed light on how animals evolved a taste for alcohol, and why people abuse alcohol, thus paving the way for improved therapy approaches to treat alcoholism.

Full findings and videos about the tree shrew can be accessed here.

Amusing discoveries about animals and plants like this serve as little reminders to us on how much the natural world has to offer in unraveling mysteries about ourselves and improving human well-being.

Yet, as the latest Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (pdf) reports on biodiversity, "Over the past few hundred years, humans have increased species extinction rates by as much as 1,000 times background rates that were typical over Earth's history."

Furthermore, "Changes in biodiversity due to human activities were more rapid in the past 50 years than at any time in human history, and the drivers of change that cause biodiversity loss and lead to changes in ecosystem services are either steady, show no evidence of declining over time, or are increasing in intensity."

The pen-tailed tree shrews, and other species may yet become endangered, but the present alarmingly high rates of wildlife extinction means, sadly, we are already in the process of rapidly burning the pages of nature's library of wisdom without even having the chance to study them.

Even if we learn the secrets of drinking from the humble tree shrew, the biodiversity loss that we continue to inflict upon ourselves in our ignorance is certainly a sorrow that we can't drink away.

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1 comment

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Steve N. Lee (anonymous)

Extinction rates are alarming, yes. I've spoken about this on my own blog.

As for this little shrew and all his rainforest friends? Well, it's the same argument for not destroying the forests because there might be a cure for cancer hiding in the shrubery, isn't it? And well there might. We've found cures for other illnesses so why not cancer?

A treatment for alcohol abuse would be great. Though, of course, the easiest 'treatment' is simply self-control to start with - something else I've spoken of at length. Alcohol is an excellent example of how we treat the world - as a little playground all for us to abuse as we will. Do anything we like to make us happy and never think of the consequences.

A pity there won't be a single rainforest on earth that can 'cure' us of our greed and over-consumption!

A good post, Shom. Thank you,
Steve N. Lee
author of eco-blog
and suspense thriller 'What if...?'

Written in August 2008

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  • Posted on Aug. 27, 2008. Listed in:

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