Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Shoo fly

Fruit fly researchers hold on tight to your charges: Sarah Palin has it out for your favorite organism.

In a recent policy speech on special needs children the vice-presidential candidate disparaged a congressional earmark for “Fruit fly research in Paris, France,” adding incredulously, “I kid you not!”

It seems she was talking about a US government facility in France that studies fruit flies pestering the California olive crop—a decidedly more refined diet than the pungent goo consumed by Drosophila melanogaster, the famous lab workhorse.

I guess no one bothered to tell her that fruit fly research has led to numerous basic science discoveries, such as—oh yeah, the basis for heredity. Not to mention a potential treatment for fragile X syndrome, a major cause of autism, and insight into the brains of people with Down’s syndrome.

It may be easy for Palin to dismiss the insect—after all, it’s not too esthetically appealing. (Unless of course, you happen to work on it.)

At least one renowned fruit fly researcher isn’t impressed. Eric Wieschaus, a winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in medicine, endorsed Obama in an open letter signed by other Nobel prize winners. Maybe he wasn’t too keen on McCain’s similarly off-target remarks disparaging Grizzly Bear DNA research.


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    teh07h3r0n3 said:

    The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has also made other significant contributions to Down’s syndrome research. Genes found to be responsible for orchestrating the development of the fly brain — genes with names such as single-minded and minibrain, to name a few — were later found to have human homologues in the region of chromosome 21 thought to be responsible for the neurological abnormalities seen in Down’s syndrome. This connection quickly led to the creation, and greater understanding, of several Down’s syndrome mouse models.


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    bugjah said:

    As a drosophilist, I have always strived in my papers to call drosophilids (order Diptera, family Drosophilidae) “vinegar flies,” since “fruit flies” (the ones that attack fruit in fruit orchards) are from the family Tephritidae. It’s very confusing that the same common name is often applied to both groups (note, though, that the good folks at Iowa State Entomology’s ‘Bug Guide’ site refuse to even list “fruit fly” as an alternate common name for drosophilids!). Hitchens’ entertaining screed misses this point. Charlotte’s post doesn’t quite make the distinction either. And poor Sarah is probably wondering why we are spending millions to study the critters. Because everyone knows that as long as you take your garbage outside frequently in the summer, and don’t leave piles of fruit out in the open for too long, you shouldn’t have to worry too much. You betcha.

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    Alan Dove said:

    And let’s not forget the most direct application of fly research: developing new pesticides. If I’m not mistaken, that’s actually the focus of the USDA lab Palin chose to mock. They’re working on new ways to keep flies off fruit crops, which is a huge economic problem in states like California.

    Of course, California is a blue state, not one of the “America-loving” parts of the country, so perhaps their problems don’t really matter.