The importance of the fruit fly

Fruit fly life cycle

My research is focussed on radiotherapy for breast cancer patients and so most of my work looks at human cells, but as a small side project to complement what I am doing in humans we have decided to carry out some experiments on flies too…

Now you might ask what the relevance of looking at flies has on my project and actually us humans are more similar to flies than you might first think. Most biologists that work with flies will work on the Drosophila melanogaster species – more commonly known as the fruit fly (that tiny orange-coloured fly that appears out of nowhere when fruit is starting to go bad). Fruit flies are a model organism and are commonly used in research because they are very easy to keep, reproduce quickly and have a short life span of just 1-2 months. They also only have 4 pairs of chromosomes (humans have 23 pairs!) but still share quite a big percentage of genes with us and so using flies in research can help us to understand humans too.

Fruit flies can withstand similar amounts of radiation as human cells can when they are in their larval stages and so I am interested in studying the fruit flies then. But, once the flies have reached sexual maturity and start laying eggs (after around 8-12 hours of becoming an adult), the females can continue to lay up to a hundred eggs a day! This means that in just a single bottle of flies kept over a few days I could have a mix of eggs, larvae, pupae and adults all at one time, making it really difficult to track the same larvae through an experiment. To overcome this problem, I need to move the eggs soon after they are laid into a new bottle to develop. Culturing flies this way is not difficult at all but does require a lot of organisation and planning to make sure I am getting enough eggs and that I am moving them at the right time – especially when the experiment might require hundreds of larvae!

At the moment I am very new to fly work and so I am trialling the egg moving to see how it goes before I start things properly. A few weeks ago I was really keen to just jump right in and get on with the main experiment but that’s never really a good idea if you want nice data. It’s always best to practice first on a smaller scale in case you encounter any problems before doing the big experiments. So, all being well, my flies’ eggs should have hatched into larvae by next week and I can pick them for my trial experiment – fingers-crossed! Hopefully then it shouldn’t be too long before I can start on the exciting stuff; I’ll keep you posted…

And don’t forget, next time you see those pesky fruit flies hovering around your over-ripe bananas, remember how important they are in research and how much they can contribute to our understanding of biology!

7 thoughts on “The importance of the fruit fly”

  1. This is so interesting! I know you were saying on the community pool that you were worried people wouldn’t stay engaged but I think that it will just help develop your niche! You’ll attract similar kind of people to you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Educational and interesting for reading,however in my country is hard to have natural fruit and impossible to avoid “bad fruit”.However this opens your eyes clearly and it is good advice and prevention for illness like cancer.I expect great things from you in the future young lady !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! Well I love learning about new things, whether it’s in my niche or not. I always want to know how anything works, even how fruit flies can play a role in your research. Keep up the good work. Girl Power 🙂


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