Ode to the fruit fly

Ode to the fruit fly: tiny lab subject crucial to basic research

Decreasing funding for fruit-fly research will hurt people, not flies. John Tann, CC BY

By Marco Gallio

Assistant Professor of Neurobiology at Northwestern University

The world around us is full of amazing creatures. My favorite is an animal the size of a pinhead, that can fly and land on the ceiling, that stages an elaborate (if not beautiful) courtship ritual, that can learn and remember… I am talking about the humble fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. By day, a tiny bug content to live on our food scraps. By night, the superhero that contributes to saving millions of human lives as one of the key model systems of modern biomedical research.

Fruit flies entered the laboratory almost through the back window a little more than 100 years ago. The excitement was still fresh after rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s work on the genetics of peas in 1900. It was an outlandish notion at the time that Mendel’s simple laws of inheritance could apply even to animals. To test this revolutionary idea, scientists were looking for an animal they could keep easily in the lab and reproduce in large numbers. Read more.