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Why We Need the Fruit Fly

The thought of a fruit fly is not a pleasant one. They plague ripened fruits, trash barrels, and drains, and cause quite the headache for the home or restaurant owner. If you find them in their early stages, they are in the form of nauseating maggots. But did you know the use of the fruit fly in scientific research has resulted in 8 Nobel prizes? It turns out these flies have been instrumental in improving our understanding of intricacies in human biology.

Fruit flies have proven their worth in various ways. The first is due to the fact that thousands can be kept in a lab at any given time. It is easy to get those numbers up as well, as females breed rapidly, laying 30-50 eggs a day. These eggs hatch at an average of 8 days, although it could be even less at higher temperatures. This aids in the understanding of gene function, as scientists can have access to several generations of fruit flies in a short period of time. They are also even easier to experiment with than rats, as they have fairly simple physiological systems. Perhaps most importantly and remarkably, “fruit flies share nearly 60% of our genes, including those responsible for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and heart disease.”

The first recorded use of fruit flies in a lab was by American biologist Thomas Hunt Morgan in the early 1900’s, who set up a “fly room” at Columbia University. He was able to study the connection chromosomes had with passing genetic traits between generations of fruit flies, which won him a Nobel Prize. His own students, Alfred Henry Sturtevant and Herman Joseph Muller, furthered that research on genetics with the flies, discovering genetic mutations caused by x-ray irradiation. Later in the 1960’s, Seymour Benzer and Ronald Konopka revealed which gene controlled circadian rhythms in the flies. Most recently, Brandeis biologists Michael Rosbash and Jeff Hall used flies for more research into circadian rhythms to determine the workings of our internal clocks; why we sleep, wake, and eat when we do. They were also given the Nobel Prize.

Fruit flies have clearly aided in many scientific breakthroughs for over a century. There is no predicting how much more they can do for us, but it seems the possibilities are endless…well, fruitful. But if you are a home or restaurant owner in Connecticut, they are most likely just a burden. Contact Richland Pest & Bee for fruit fly extermination in Connecticut.

Source: “The Discovery of Nature’s Master Timekeeper” by Lawrence Goodman, Brandeis Magazine, Spring 2018