Fruit flies. I kid you not.

I have complained recently about the state of basic research support in Canada, as the current government is pushing for more short-sighted, applied, industry-oriented work. This is as nothing compared to the attitude of some politicians south of the 49th.

Here is how a recent paper of mine began*:

Through all the major transitions in genetics over the past 100 years – from early mutation and mapping studies involving countless crosses and phenotypic analyses, to karyotyping and polytene chromosome banding, to the application of allozymes in population-level surveys, to the advent of complete genome sequencing and the rise of “evo-devo” – the fly Drosophila melanogaster has maintained its uncontested status as a preeminent model organism (Brookes, 2001; Beller & Oliver, 2006). Several entire volumes have been devoted to its use in experimental genetics (e.g., Demerec & Kaufmann, 1996; Powell, 1997; Sulivan et al.,2000; Henderson 2003; Ashburner et al., 2005), and it is estimated that there are well over 1,000 research groups worldwide who use Drosophila as a key model (Clark et al., 2003). As Demerec & Kaufmann (1996, p.1) put it, “it would not be an exaggeration to say that we have learned more about the basic laws of heredity from the study of this fly than from work on all other organisms combined.”

Here is what Palin has to say about wasting money on fruit fly work. I kid you not.


* Yes, I know Drosophila technically is not a fruit fly, but it is often referred to this way.


It is even worse… apparently this actually referred to applied studies on the olive fruit fly (Bactrocera oleae) which is a major agricultural pest (one can only imagine what she says about basic research).

Here is what the Congressman who earmarked it stated:

“The Olive Fruit Fly has infested thousands of California olive groves and is the single largest threat to the U.S. olive and olive oil industries,” he said. “I secured $748,000 for olive fruit fly research and irradiation in the (fiscal year 2008) appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA will use some of that funding for their research facility in France. This USDA research facility is located in France because Mediterranean countries like France have dealt with the Olive Fruit Fly for decades, while California has only been exposed since the late 1990s. This is not uncommon; the USDA has several international research facilities throughout the world, including Australia, China and Argentina.”

Hat tips: Pharyngula, Chance and Necessity, Mike the Mad Biologist

1 comment to Fruit flies. I kid you not.

  • Chris Edwards

    I’ve no doubt she hadn’t a clue what she was talking about but if she realised how the fruit fly had served evolutionary research, she’d probably be even more against it.


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