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German scientists discover hard-drinking tree shrew

DPA/The Local · 29 Jul 2008, 18:06

Published: 29 Jul 2008 18:06 GMT+02:00

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The pen-tailed tree shrew, which is indigenous to the rainforests of Malaysia and southern Thailand was found to have a taste for palm beer, but according to Frank Wiens and Annette Zitzmann from the University of Bayreuth in Bavaria the animal‘s unique physiology means it never gets tipsy.

The furry drinker spends more than two hours each night slugging back fermented flower nectar of bertam palm trees. The research sheds new light on alcohol abuse in humans because the tree shrew, looking like a large mouse with a long feathered tail, is closely related to primates.

“It spends more time (drinking) than looking for any other type of nourishment,” Wiens said, who along with an international research team, reported the findings this week in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences. “Considering the amount of alcohol they consume they should be drunk every third night. But they aren‘t.”

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Wiens believes the tree shrews have a metabolism that allows them to process alcohol much more efficiently than humans. The revelations could lead to a fundamental shift in theories of why humankind started to consume alcohol. Previously, scientists thought humans started drinking with the discovery of beer roughly 9,000 years ago, or that primates sought out fermented fruit with small amounts of alcohol. But the new research shows primates may have started boozing much earlier.

DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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