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Fruit Flies on Speed

Experiments with fruit flies show that methamphetamine may alter the way cells metabolize glucose. That’s not good news.

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Scientists love the little critters.
Photo via benchfly

By Dirk Hanson

04/22/11

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You know what they say: Times flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana. Okay, sorry, we had to get that out of the way. Whenever the subject of fruit flies comes up, we can’t help getting a bit silly, even though the little critters have proven crucial to modern genetic research. They may be fruit flies, but they breed like rabbits. Researchers at the University of Illinois, Purdue, and elsewhere used fruit flies in recent research to tease out more information about the molecular pathways effected by methamphetamine use. The study in the open-access journal PLoS ONE took a whole-body approach, tracing the speed-induced cascade of chemical reactions wherever they found it—which was more or less everywhere. They found that meth exposure had striking effects on molecular pathways associated with “energy generation, sugar metabolism, sperm cell formation, cell structure, hormones, skeletal muscle and cardiac muscles.” Which pretty much covers the waterfront. One disturbing preliminary finding was that meth exposure may change the way cells break down glucose, similar to a change in cell energy metabolism found in cancer patients. The altered energy metabolism, known as the Warburg Effect, is another troubling aspect of what researchers are now calling the “meth syndrome.” Professor Barry Pittendrigh of the University of Illinois said: “One could almost call meth a perfect storm toxin because it does so much damage to so many different tissues in the body.”

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