Fruitfly reading personals
Personals: ♀ FF, Se/E/Dp, seeks ♂ FF,
+/+/+ for short term relationship. Enjoys
romance, fermentation, and long walks
on the peach...

You know those annoying little bugs that like to get in your fruit if you leave it on the counter? Well they're called Drosophila melanogaster (or just fruit flies) and they've been used to study genetics for over 100 years. This interactive website is designed to introduce biology students to research on model organisms while reviewing genetics basics.

Learning about Genetics Using Flies

Model organisms are species that are studied to understand the biology of other organisms, often humans. Fruit flies share 75% of the genes that cause disease with humans, so scientists can learn about human genetics by studying fruit fly genetics. It is not only the flies themselves that the scientists are interested in, but also understanding the basic biology that all organisms have in common. There are hundreds of labs across the country who are entirely dedicated to studying fruit flies, including ten here at UNC.


Fruiflies in vials

Fruit flies in vials with media.

Low Maintenance Creatures

Fruit flies are great to work with in a research setting because they are relatively easy to take care of, especially compared to larger and more expensive organisms like rats or fish. They are also small (only a few millimeters long) but not so small that they can't be seen without a microscope. This allows for scientist to keep up to millions of them at one time. In a fruit fly lab, there are stacks and stacks of fruit flies living in little vials (see picture to the right). The only care they need is to have their food changed every ten to fourteen days by transferring them into new vials. They eat a pastey substance, called media, that goes in the bottom of the vial and contains all the water they need soaked into it. The vials can be kept at room temperature, however incubators are used to expedite or slow the life cycle as needed. Basically they're easy to work with, adorable, and don't ask for much: these models are no divas.

Dizzy Fly on pad

Knocking Them Out

The fruit flies do fly, of course, so they have to be knocked out before they come out of their vials. When a scientist needs to take a look at the fruit flies under the microscope they can be easily anesthetized. The options for anesthetizing the flies include drugging or cooling them, however, most labs choose to gas them with carbon dioxide. There are carbon dioxide lines that run across the work benches that the scientists can hook up to vials of flies. A little carbon dioxide puts them to sleep long enough to look at them under the microscope but within a few minutes they're back to normal without any side effects. Well, they might be a little dizzy after, but they don't complain much.

Click here to take a look at a day in the life of one of these fruit fly scientists

Elizabeth Service
UNC Baccalaureate Education in Science and Teaching