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What makes fish drunk?

Boffins get fish drunk to prove what any bouncer already knows

Fish boozing in alcohol and taurine more likely to ignore pals and look for a fight

Wed 15 Aug 2018 // 06:01 UTC

Can fish get drunk? Yes, apparently.

They’re more likely to become anti-social daredevils when the alcohol is mixed with energy drinks, according to a paper published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

A team of researchers discovered this when conducting experiments with zebrafish. They doped up a group of 192 zebrafish by adding different concentrations of alcohol and energy drinks containing taurine in a tank of water.

The animals were split into shoals with four fish per shoal, and their behaviour was monitored over a period of an hour. The tank was also split into four different areas, the furthest end contained a fake model of an Oscar fish, a natural predator of zebrafish.

“Alcohol reduces our inhibitions, and in low doses can cause relaxation and euphoria. However, in higher doses this low inhibition can cause problems with fighting or risky behaviour. Zebrafish have similar biological and behavioural responses to alcohol, and are a highly social species, making them ideal for studying the effects of alcohol on behaviour,” Parker


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The results showed that zebrafish that were exposed to more taurine and alcohol were less likely to interact with its mates in the tank and more likely to venture off towards the predator zone, compared to fish that just had alcohol or only water in their tanks.

“Here, we found that the addition of taurine, an ingredient in many ‘energy’ drinks, appears to exacerbate risky choices in zebrafish, as well as reducing their social cohesion. Taken together, these data appear to suggest that mixing alcohol and taurine might be a factor in increasing some of the negative effects of alcohol. People should be aware that drinking energy drinks in combination with alcohol may impair their judgement, and should do so with caution,» he warned.

We’ve all had our own experiences downing vodka redbulls, rum and cokes, and the god awful Jägerbombs at university, and sworn that they get us drunk faster. It turns out that adding caffeinated sugary fizz to alcohol makes the effects of binge drinking even worse.

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«The effects of mixing alcohol and energy drinks is yet to be established. This study is the first to show that the two together may be exacerbating some of the negative effects of binge drinking; that is reduction of fear and problems in social communication while intoxicated, which collectively increase the risk of fighting, violence and participation in risky behaviours,» said Matthew Parker, co-author of the paper and a senior lecturer in behavioural pharmacology and molecular neuroscience at the University of Portsmouth. ®

Fish Poisoning

At certain times of the year, various species of fish and shellfish contain poisonous biotoxins, even if well cooked. According to the CDC, it is considered an under-recognized risk for travelers, specifically in the tropics and subtropics.

Certain fish — groupers, barracudas, moray eel, sturgeon, sea bass, red snapper, amberjack, mackerel, parrot fish, surgeonfish, and triggerfish — can cause ciguatera fish poisoning. The CDC recommends never eating moray eel or barracuda. Other types of fish that may contain the toxin at unpredictable times include sea bass and a wide range of tropical reef and warm-water fish. Fish containing these toxins do not look, smell, or taste bad. Cooking, marinating, freezing, or stewing does not destroy the toxin.

The risk of ciguatera poisoning exists in all tropical and subtropical waters of the West Indies, the Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean, where these reef fish are eaten.

Two other forms of poisoning can happen from naturally occurring toxins in fish: tetrodotoxin, sometimes called pufferfish poisoning or fugu poisoning, and scombroid poisoning.

Where is the risk of ciguatera poisoning the greatest?

Reef fish from the tropical and subtropical waters of the West Indies, the Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean pose the greatest threat. Cases have been reported in the United States in Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Florida. A few isolated cases of ciguatera poisoning have even been noted along the eastern seaboard of the United States.

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More than 400 species of fish, particularly reef fish, are thought to contain the toxin for ciguatera poisoning.

What are the symptoms of ciguatera poisoning?

Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning generally appear between a few minutes and 6 hours after the toxic fish has been eaten. These include a variety of gastrointestinal, neurological, and cardiovascular abnormalities. The following are the most common symptoms of ciguatera poisoning. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Numbness and tingling about the mouth and extremities

In more severe cases, the person may suffer muscle pains, dizziness, and sensations of temperature reversal, where hot things seem cold and cold things seem hot. Irregular heart rhythms and low blood pressure may also be experienced. Ciguatera poisoning symptoms typically resolve within several days, but may last up to 4 weeks. The symptoms of ciguatera poisoning may resemble other medical conditions. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Treatment for ciguatera poisoning

Treatment for ciguatera poisoning involves relieving the symptoms and treating any complications. There is no specific antidote for the toxin itself. Generally, recovery takes from several days to several weeks.

What is tetrodotoxin?

Tetrodotoxin, also called pufferfish poisoning or fugu poisoning, is a much rarer form of fish poisoning. Yet, it is potentially very serious. This is almost exclusively associated with eating the pufferfish from waters of the Indo-Pacific regions. There have also been several reported cases of poisonings, including fatalities, from pufferfish from the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Gulf of California. Pufferfish poisoning is a continuing problem in Japan.

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What are the symptoms of pufferfish poisoning?

Symptoms generally appear between 20 minutes and 3 hours after eating the poisonous pufferfish. The following are the most common symptoms of pufferfish poisoning. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Numbness of lips and tongue
  • Numbness of face and extremities
  • Sensations of lightness or floating
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty walking
  • Extensive muscle weakness
  • Convulsions
  • Respiratory distress
  • Mental impairment
  • Cardiac arrhythmia

Death can happen within 4 to 6 hours of poisoning. It is essential to seek immediate medical attention.

Treatment for pufferfish poisoning

Treatment for pufferfish poisoning consists of limiting the body’s absorption of the toxin, relieving symptoms, and treating life-threatening complications. There is no known antidote for tetrodotoxin.

What is scombrotoxin?

Scombrotoxin, also called scombroid poisoning or histamine poisoning, happens after eating fish that contain high levels of histamine due to improper food handling. It remains one of the most common forms of fish poisoning in the U.S. and worldwide. These fish, which include mahi mahi (dolphin fish), albacore tuna, bluefin and yellowfin tuna, bluefish, mackerel, sardines, anchovy, herring, marlin, amberjack, and abalone, have high amounts of histidine. As a result of inadequate refrigeration or preservation, bacteria convert the histidine to histamine. This leads to scombroid poisoning. Contaminated fish may appear and taste fresh, although some may taste «peppery,» «spicy,» or «bubbly.» The toxin may form even if the fish has only been temporarily stored at too high a temperature.

This form of fish poisoning happens worldwide in temperate and tropical waters.

What are the symptoms of scombroid poisoning?

Symptoms generally appear within minutes to an hour after eating affected fish. They typically last 3 hours, but can last several days. The following are the most common symptoms of scombroid poisoning. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Tingling or burning sensations in the mouth
  • Rash on the face and upper body
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Throbbing headache
  • Hives and itching of skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
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The symptoms of scombroid poisoning may resemble other medical conditions. Many cases of «fish allergy» are actually scombroid poisoning. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Treatment for scombroid poisoning

Treatment for scombroid poisoning is generally unnecessary. Symptoms usually resolve within 12 hours and scombroid poisoning is rarely life-threatening. Treatment could include antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine and cimetidine.

Specific treatment for all fish and shellfish poisoning is based on:

  • Your overall health and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, and therapies
  • Your opinion or preference

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Lost at sea – fish getting drunk from rising carbon dioxide emissions

Carbon dioxide concentrations in seawater could reach levels high enough to make fish “intoxicated” many decades earlier than previously thought, with serious implications for the world’s fisheries.


UNSW researchers have found that carbon dioxide concentrations in seawater could reach levels high enough to make fish “intoxicated” and disoriented many decades earlier than previously thought, with serious implications for the world’s fisheries.

The UNSW study, published in the journal Nature, is the first global analysis of the impact of rising carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels on natural variations in carbon dioxide concentrations in the world’s oceans.

“Our results were staggering and have massive implications for global fisheries and marine ecosystems across the planet,” says lead author, Dr Ben McNeil, of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre.

“High concentrations of carbon dioxide cause fish to become intoxicated – a phenomenon known as hypercapnia. Essentially, the fish become lost at sea. The carbon dioxide affects their brains and they lose their sense of direction and ability to find their way home. They don’t even know where their predators are.

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“We’ve shown that if atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution continues to rise, fish and other marine creatures in CO2 hotpots in the Southern, Pacific and North Atlantic oceans will experience episodes of hypercapnia by the middle of this century – much sooner than had been predicted, and with more damaging effects than thought.

“By 2100, creatures in up to half the world’s surface oceans are expected to be affected by hypercapnia.”

The study is by Dr McNeil and Dr Tristan Sasse of the UNSW School of Mathematics and Statistics.

Ocean hypercapnia is predicted to occur when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations exceed 650 parts per million.

The UNSW scientists utilised a global database of seawater carbon dioxide concentrations collected during the past 30 years as part of a variety of oceanographic programs.

“We then devised a numerical method to work out the natural monthly peaks and troughs in carbon dioxide concentrations during the year across the surface of the world’s oceans, based on these observations,” says Dr Sasse.

“This allowed us to predict for the first time that these natural oscillations will be amplified by up to tenfold in some regions of the ocean by the end of the century, if atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise.”

To help accelerate this important area of research, the UNSW scientists have also offered prizes to other researchers who can improve on their results.

“Predicting the onset of hypercapnia is difficult, due to a lack of global ocean measurements of carbon dioxide concentrations,” says Dr McNeil.

“We are challenging other scientists with innovative predictive approaches to download the dataset we used, employ their own numerical methods and share their final predictions, to see if they can beat our approach.”

The competition and prizes are outlined on the website, of which Dr McNeil is founder.

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