This is Scientific American 60-Second Science. I'm Christopher Intagliata .Got a minute?
We humans take medicine when we're sick.
As do our primate cousins.
Chimps, for example, snack on a bitter African shrub to combat intestinal worms.
But the habit extends even to invertebrates.
Take fruit flies, which sip alcohol to ward off parasitic wasps.
Or wood ants, which line their nests with anti-fungal, anti-bacterial tree sap.
Now researchers in Finland report that ants there that have encountered a pathogenic fungus appear to fight the infection by eating foods high in free radicals.
Those are molecules with a talent for causing cell damage, in this case, to the cells of the fungus.
That's according to a study in the journal Evolution.
The researchers collected some 400 wild ants.
They exposed some to the fungus, and left the rest alone.
Then they offered up a sort of eggy custard, either plain, or laced with free radicals in the form of hydrogen peroxide.
Uninfected ants didn't want anything to do with the radical-rich food.
Which makes sense.
"Exactly, I mean we don't take painkillers on a daily basis, or we don't take anti-microbial agents on a daily basis.
Because that would have really severe side effects on the organism."
Dalial Freitak, an insect immunologist at the University of Helsinki.
Sick ants, on the other hand, preferred the peroxide diet¡ªeven before developing a full-blown infection.
And the medicine upped their odds of survival some 30 percent.
"I would definitely go for it!"
As for free radicals in the wild?
Dalial says ants might get them from the honeydew substance that aphids produce.
Or decomposing corpses, another ant favorite.
No word on whether they sometimes seek out antioxidants.
Thanks for the minute, for Scientific American 60-Second Science. I'm Christopher Intagliata.