Torn from today’s headlines!!
YES!! Drug use in the animal kingdom is a much more pervasive activity than originally suspected!
As our intrepid geeks and nerdlings over at ScienceDaily.com reveal, “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.”
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.
“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.
In addition, animal medication should affect the evolution of animal immune systems, according to Hunter and his colleagues.
The authors also note that the study of animal medication will have direct relevance for human food production.
 Image credit Jaap de Roode
 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.
Journal Reference: J. C. de Roode, T. Lefevre, M. D. Hunter. Self-Medication in Animals. Science, 2013; 340 (6129): 150 DOI:10.1126/science.1235824