Whatever your job and background, drunken conversations between work colleagues have much in common. However, a phrase that I often heard in Japan but have heard nowhere else is, "I have an inactive form of aldehyde dehydrogenase."

Drunken biologists we might have been, but even through the fog of Suntory whisky on a Saturday night, we still knew something about the genetics of drinking.

Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) is the enzyme that in large part determines how much you can drink and how bad you're going to feel the next morning. In the liver, ethanol from your cocktail or beer or whisky is converted into acetaldehyde, a nasty compound more toxic than alcohol. ALDH then swiftly converts acetaldehyde to harmless acetic acid (vinegar).