Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Drosaphila melanogaster

As an undergrad I majored in molecular biology, which sounds more impressive than it actually is. My plan was to go to the University of Illinois in Chicago and get a PhD in molecular genetics. I would commute to grad school and save so much money on housing, it was going to be great! Then I learned that molecular genetics was totally not as cool as it sounded and that I have no interest in being a geneticist. But before I came to that realization and ended up on the path I am currently on I took my undergraduate genetics course. My teacher was great, I adored him and the class. Like many of my science courses this one had a lab. Most lab courses had a new experiment every week and some of them would have some sort of task that was completed over the course of the semester. For genetics lab we had to do some weekly labs and then there was the "big" experiment which involved working with fruit flies, specifically Drosaphila melanogaster.

My lab group was given three vials of fruit flies. One vial had flies with a recessive wing mutation, they had kinda cool looking heart shaped wings. The second vial had a recessive bristle mutation, they didn't have as long of "back hair" essentially. The last vial had flies without either mutation, aka wild type flies. Our task for the semester was to figure out if the mutation was good for the flies or not*. When mated with the wild type the mutation was good then it would help the mutant flies get lucky and there would be more mutants, if it was bad then they would be undesirable freaks and not get any fly lovin'.

In order to complete our experiment we had to breed the flies together, which sounds easy, I mean anyone who has ever had a fruit fly infestation knows that they are fricking prolific buggers, mix them up and let nature take its course. What complicated our task was the fact that once mated female fruit flies store sperm. In order to prevent this we had to separate the females from the males** within 8-10 hours of them hatching out of their pupa (fly cocoon) and keep them apart until it was time for the big fly orgy. So we put all the adults from our stocks into a new tube and as the new flies hatched we would collect the virgin females. I felt bad to just kill off the males and so would save them too, my lab partners were not so considerate. When we had enough virgins of each type we would toss them in a new tube together and let the fly love making begin, as I recall we gave them a week to have their hot fly sex party. We then had to wait for their offspring to grow and hatch out and observe how many of each type there was, as I recall this took another week.

So it took about 2 weeks from start of the fly orgy until we got their adult offspring. It took forever and our lives revolved around the mating/life cycle of fricking tiny bugs! I remember coming in after closing at work, the science building closed at 11pm and so I would get there at 10:30 and wait until the security guard came to kick us out (I was not the only lifeless nerd) and make sure that there were no flies hatched out so that any hatched females would be virgins when my lab partners came in the morning (when they decided to participate...). When we were working as a team (or I was working as our team) there was round the clock virgin collection. But I digress, the point is it took about 2 weeks from hot fruit fly love to new adult fruit fly.

Luis Pasteur was a french scientist, he was responsible for some very important discoveries. He developed pasteurization, wonder where that name came from... And he was finally able to prove once and for all that a concept called spontaneous generation is total BS. This debate had been going on for many decades, some believed that there was some mysterious force or God that would cause living things to just pop into existence, and others believed that life came from other life. Proof for spontaneous generation was maggots appearing on meat that had been sitting out on a counter and bacteria growing in broth that had sat out. Covered meat not getting maggots proved nothing because the life force stuff was in the air and couldn't get to the meat (if you consider the flies life source stuff they are right...). The arguments why the experiments that disproved spontaneous generation were many, Luis designed an experiment that covered all the bases and finally killed it.

So to wrap up yet another of my rambling posts, we have the fact that fruit flies take about two weeks to make more fruit flies and the fact that fruit flies come from other fruit flies and not some invisible life force from God. So how in the world is it that the generation time for fruit flies in my apartment is like 10 minutes?!!? I throw fruit scraps into the trash and within days my apartment contains a swarm of these annoying bugs! I wish I could charge them rent, damn freeloaders. Oh and I know what you are thinking, "Why doesn't she just take out her garbage? Seriously she got into grad school?!" and the answer is that I am lazy and cheap and hate the cold and a chronic procrastinator. It is a "waste" to take out the trash before the bag is full, and I am tired and don't feel like making the long arduous journey to the dumpster***, especially when it is freezing**** outside. It is supposed to warm up a bit tomorrow/this afternoon, it is time to quit whining and take out the garbage, then it will be just me and the crickets*****.

Now what will be interesting is to see if my hits go up, I semi-figured out how to use google analytics and so far the two searches that led people to this blog were totally lame. If someone searches "hot fly sex" I will laugh hysterically, and be disturbed. Of course they might well be a student taking a genetics lab, we often found ourselves in the hallway discussing wild type virgins and the like as if it were completely normal to discuss the sex lives of insects, the freshmen gave us the funniest looks while the people who already took the course gave us looks of pity. Wonder how many people looking for free porn will click thinking Drosaphila melanogaster is a sexual position. Will bringing up the fact that one of the meds I take are little blue pills cause some misinterpretation as well... Stomach meds, ED meds, what's the difference ;).

-----The copy literaldan section, aka footnotes-----
*The cool wings were sexy and resulted in more wing mutant flies than wild type flies. Apparently back hair is sexy, to fruit flies, the short back haired flies didn't score much.
**Sadly I am able to tell the difference, without magnification, between male and female fruit flies.
***There are dumpsters right across the street on one side and dumpsters across the parking lot on the other side of my building.
****Below 70 is cold, below 60 is freezing, below 40 I am in my winter coat and long underwear, and I really don't want to think about it getting any colder than that, especially since last winter it got into the negative degrees Fahrenheit here.
*****Bugs are a fact of life in this state and I don't feel like spraying insecticide all over the place. I hate flies though so will whack them, fruit flies go away when their food source is removed so I don't have to go nuts on them. I don't like asian beetles but they kill themselves for me by frying themselves in the lights.


loren said...

Love the footnotes! Too bad "regular" footnotes weren't that interesting.

K'man said...

just to confirm it, I goggled "hot fly sex" with and without the quotes to see what came up. Without quotes had pages of hits. With quotes had four hits and yours was fourth.
Sick, I love it.
BTW, as rambling and disjointed as your thread was, it was still interesting enought to hold my attention to see where you were going with all of this.
My conclusion? You are tring to get more goggle hits by including the words virgin, mutant, fly sex, in your blog.

The Microblogologist said...

Loren: I am likely to be tempted to put this kind of footnotes in my dissertation. I'm no where near as talented as Dan with them though, he recently had a footnote to a footnote.

Kevin: You forgot free, wild, porn and likely some others that I can't remember off the top of my head. When I started writing I had actually intended to just have a quick whine about the stupid fruit flies taking over my apartment. Then I decided to give some background, then I realized how many "keywords" I was likely using and went with it. Only number four for "hot fly sex", as in there are three sites more about "hot fly sex" than mine after that post... I am morbidly curious now... And this post and all the other ones that ramble (ok all of my posts) are proof that I am my father's daughter.