Scientists could soon make you thirsty at the drop of a hat

27 Jan 2015

A team of researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in the US are claiming to have discovered the ‘switch’ that could make us thirsty regardless of when we have last had a drink.

Likewise, their research has shown that as quickly as they are able to make you feel the overwhelming desire for a drink of water, they can flip the switch again and quench your thirst instantly.

Of course, there is no physical switch, but the team who have published their findings in Nature say the actual neural circuit is located in a part of the brain known as the subfornical organ (SFO).

Undertaken on mice, the research would appear to indicate that the switch would exist in the human brain to regulate our body by letting it know when it has consumed enough water to maintain blood pressure, electrolyte balance, and cell volume.

However, the discovery was, in fact, an accident given that Charles Zuker and his team from the HHMI were actually researching the ‘biology of taste’ that sees our perception of taste vary depending on how regulated our bodies our with that substance.

For example, salt tastes nice to humans in low concentrations, but when consumed in high concentration it becomes much less appealing given its toxicity in large quantities.

‘Keeps on drinking’

Another lead on the project, Yuki Oka, spent much of his time working with the water regulatory side of the mice used in the research and their team’s findings are a vast improvement on previous experiments which showed inconsistent results.

“There is an animal that is happily wandering around, with zero interest in drinking. You activate this group of excitatory neurons, and it just beelines to the water spout,” Zuker said.

“As long as the light is on, that mouse keeps on drinking.”

So much so that their experiments showed they would continue to drink water that reached as much as 8pc of their body weight, the equivalent of humans drinking 1.5 gallons of water.

Mouse drinking water image via Shuterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic