New Robot Fish Help Scientists Study Alcohol's Effects

By Bryan Le 06/06/13

Could robo-fish be the new lab rats when it comes to substance and addiction research?

What happens when a fish drinks like...
a fish?
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Animals like mice and rats have long been used in scientific experiments on how alcohol and other substances affect our brains and behaviors. But a team at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) has come up with a new method for experimenting on animals that could reduce the number of live animals needed for research: robotic fish. Researchers introduced a "biomimetic robot" designed to replicate the color pattern and tail beat motion of a fertile female zebrafish into a tank full of real-live zebrafish. Zebrafish are highly social by nature, and have patterned behaviors in interacting with members of the opposite sex, making them ideal candidates for testing how a substance—like alcohol—affects behavior. With 0% ethanol (main ingredient of alcohol) in the water, the male fish hung out pretty close to the robot lady fish, but as scientists increased the dosage to 0.25% and 1% the males consistently meandered further and further away from the imitation female. While it's not exactly a mirror on how humans behave when given booze, the experiment demonstrates that the use of the robot fish can yield consistent results. Next up, the scientists plan to put a robotic predator in the tank to see how an increasingly drunk zebra fish will react to a life-threatening enemy.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter