New Robot Fish Help Scientists Study Alcohol's Effects
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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.