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Boozing hamsters don't develop beer guts or fight hangovers

Laurel Andrews

What started as a student’s summer research project on dwarf hamsters and alcohol has ballooned into three years of surprises for UAA’s Department of Psychology, Green & Gold News reports.

Dr. Gwen Lupfer Johnson, Ph.D., said UAA student Kori Radcliffe approached her about a project on the hamsters that would relate to alcoholism. Johnson's first response: “The thing is, Kori, we can give them alcohol if you want. But they're probably not going to drink it, so this will just be your back-up project because it's probably not going to go anywhere.”

When the hamsters drank until they collapsed, it was quite a surprise. Researchers discovered that they “just like the taste of plain old alcohol” Lupfer-Johnson says. But why? And how do hamster’s bodies process it?

Researchers have spent three years trying to answer that question. They’ve found that the hamsters, which are native to Siberia, hoard rye grass seeds for the winter months. When researchers added yeast to these seeds, a natural fermentation occurred. It is very likely that dwarf hamsters have their own home brewery setup during the cold winter months.

An even more surprising find?

Hamsters can’t die from an alcohol overdose. “Their livers break it down so quickly that their blood never gets enough alcohol in it to become fatal," making an overdose impossible, Lupfer-Johnson says.

Also incredibly, hamsters can easily consume 10 times what a human could take as a percentage of their body weight, while showing little sign of impairment. They also never get a beer gut, also known as “visceral obesity.” Nor do they get hangovers. Feeling jealous yet?

Read more, here.

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