Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fruit Flies and Popular Girls

I've been pretty consistent in keeping this site focused on the arts and education, and keeping it out of politics -- there are too many other good sites covering that area. But Sarah Palin's attack on fruit flies pushes over into education, so I can't resist.

Research money on fruit flies a waste? Here are some of things it can but:

Huntington's disease

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported on Monday that researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have cured fruit flies of the genetic disorder Huntington's disease.

Birth Defects

A Queen's University study of fruit flies may revolutionize the way birth defects are studied.

Fundamental secrets about the development of human embryos

Fruit flies ... are essential workhorses in thousands of biomedical research laboratories around the world. Decades of study have revealed that the tiny insects, which bear little resemblance to people, nevertheless share much of our genetic heritage. Fruit flies possess strikingly similar versions of the genes that promote normal human development and, when altered, contribute to disease.

"Nobody would have predicted that an arcane fruit fly that had a leg sticking out of its head would have revealed fundamental secrets about the development of human embryos," said Charles Zuker, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego.

On Sept. 6 at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute campus in Chevy Chase, Zuker and a distinguished group of researchers joined forces to extol the virtues of the fruit fly as a model system in biomedical research.

The metamorphosis of biology into a science offering numerically precise descriptions of nature

The metamorphosis of biology into a science offering numerically precise descriptions of nature has taken a leap forward with a Princeton team's elucidation of a key step in the development of fruit fly embryos -- discoveries that could change how scientists think not just about flies, but about life in general.

Use of fruit flies in the International Space Station to learn what space travel does to the genes of astronauts.

Fruit flies, genetic malfunction and human disease.

But what really tickled my curiosity is why Sarah decided to pick on fruit flies, of all things. Fruit flies have been a lynchpin of biomedical and genetic research going all the way back to Mendel.

Then it hit me...that's precisely why. She vaguely remembers hearing about them in high school science, and she hated high school science -- all the popular kids hated it. Besides, she and her popular friends probably used "fruit fly," like "fruit bat," as a gay-bashing insult, so she thinks this is just something to snicker at.

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