Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Self-Medication in Animals Much More Widespread Than Believed

16.04.2013
It's been known for decades that animals such as chimpanzees seek out medicinal herbs to treat their diseases.

But in recent years, the list of animal pharmacists has grown much longer, and it now appears that the practice of animal self-medication is a lot more widespread than previously thought, according to a University of Michigan ecologist and his colleagues.


Photo by Jaap de Roode

A parasite-infected monarch butterfly lays her eggs on medicinal tropical milkweed that will help to protect her offspring from disease

Animals use medications to treat various ailments through both learned and innate behaviors. The fact that moths, ants and fruit flies are now known to self-medicate has profound implications for the ecology and evolution of animal hosts and their parasites, according to Mark Hunter, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

In addition, because plants remain the most promising source of future pharmaceuticals, studies of animal medication may lead the way in discovering new drugs to relieve human suffering, Hunter and two colleagues wrote in a review article titled "Self-Medication in Animals," to be published online today in the journal Science.

"When we watch animals foraging for food in nature, we now have to ask, are they visiting the grocery store or are they visiting the pharmacy?" Hunter said. "We can learn a lot about how to treat parasites and disease by watching other animals."

Much of the work in this field has focused on cases in which animals, such as baboons and woolly bear caterpillars, medicate themselves. One recent study has suggested that house sparrows and finches add high-nicotine cigarette butts to their nests to reduce mite infestations.

But less attention has been given to the many cases in which animals medicate their offspring or other kin, according to Hunter and his colleagues. Wood ants incorporate an antimicrobial resin from conifer trees into their nests, preventing microbial growth in the colony. Parasite-infected monarch butterflies protect their offspring against high levels of parasite growth by laying their eggs on anti-parasitic milkweed.

Hunter and his colleagues suggest that researchers in the field should "de-emphasize the 'self' in self-medication" and base their studies on a more inclusive framework.

"Perhaps the biggest surprise for us was that animals like fruit flies and butterflies can choose food for their offspring that minimizes the impacts of disease in the next generation," Hunter said. "There are strong parallels with the emerging field of epigenetics in humans, where we now understand that dietary choices made by parents influence the long-term health of their children."

The authors argue that animal medication has several major consequences on the ecology and evolution of host-parasite interactions. For one, when animal medication reduces the health of parasites, there should be observable effects on parasite transmission or virulence.

For example, when gypsy moth caterpillars consume foliage high in certain toxic compounds, transmission of viruses between the caterpillars is reduced, facilitating moth outbreaks.

In addition, animal medication should affect the evolution of animal immune systems, according to Hunter and his colleagues. Honeybees are known to incorporate antimicrobial resins into their nests. Analysis of the honeybee genome suggests that they lack many of the immune-system genes of other insects, raising the possibility that honeybees' use of medicine has been partly responsible—or has compensated—for a loss of other immune mechanisms.

The authors also note that the study of animal medication will have direct relevance for human food production. Disease problems in agricultural organisms can worsen when humans interfere with the ability of animals to medicate, they point out.

For example, increases in parasitism and disease in honeybees can be linked to selection by beekeepers for reduced resin deposition by their bees. A reintroduction of such behavior in managed bee colonies would likely have great benefits for disease management, the authors say.

The first author of the Science paper is Jacobus de Roode of Emory University. The other author is Thierry Lefevre of the Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement in France.

Mark Hunter: www.lsa.umich.edu/eeb/directory/faculty/mdhunter

Jim Erickson | Newswise
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Plant seeds survive machine washing - Dispersal of invasive plants with clothes
11.09.2018 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.

nachricht Air pollution leads to cardiovascular diseases
21.08.2018 | Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists present new observations to understand the phase transition in quantum chromodynamics

The building blocks of matter in our universe were formed in the first 10 microseconds of its existence, according to the currently accepted scientific picture. After the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago, matter consisted mainly of quarks and gluons, two types of elementary particles whose interactions are governed by quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of strong interaction. In the early universe, these particles moved (nearly) freely in a quark-gluon plasma.

This is a joint press release of University Muenster and Heidelberg as well as the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt.

Then, in a phase transition, they combined and formed hadrons, among them the building blocks of atomic nuclei, protons and neutrons. In the current issue of...

Im Focus: Patented nanostructure for solar cells: Rough optics, smooth surface

Thin-film solar cells made of crystalline silicon are inexpensive and achieve efficiencies of a good 14 percent. However, they could do even better if their shiny surfaces reflected less light. A team led by Prof. Christiane Becker from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) has now patented a sophisticated new solution to this problem.

"It is not enough simply to bring more light into the cell," says Christiane Becker. Such surface structures can even ultimately reduce the efficiency by...

Im Focus: New soft coral species discovered in Panama

A study in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science describes a new, blood-red species of octocoral found in Panama. The species in the genus Thesea was discovered in the threatened low-light reef environment on Hannibal Bank, 60 kilometers off mainland Pacific Panama, by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI) and the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología (CIMAR) at the University of Costa Rica.

Scientists established the new species, Thesea dalioi, by comparing its physical traits, such as branch thickness and the bright red colony color, with the...

Im Focus: New devices based on rust could reduce excess heat in computers

Physicists explore long-distance information transmission in antiferromagnetic iron oxide

Scientists have succeeded in observing the first long-distance transfer of information in a magnetic group of materials known as antiferromagnets.

Im Focus: Finding Nemo's genes

An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome

An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome, providing the research community with an invaluable resource to decode the response of fish to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

One of the world’s most prominent strategic forums for global health held in Berlin in October 2018

03.09.2018 | Event News

4th Intelligent Materials - European Symposium on Intelligent Materials

27.08.2018 | Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Glacial engineering could limit sea-level rise, if we get our emissions under control

20.09.2018 | Earth Sciences

Warning against hubris in CO2 removal

20.09.2018 | Earth Sciences

Halfway mark for NOEMA, the super-telescope under construction

20.09.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>