Shoo fly…no wait, come back!

I recently had the good fortune to find myself chatting with our Curator of Anthropology, Dirk Van Tuerenhout, about everything from the baby woolly mammoth mummy to why flies are used in genetic research. The latter of these two really got me off on an overly-excited tangent as genetics is the subject in which I hold my degree. I decided then and there to blog about the fascinating, the miniscule, the dapper dipteran…Drosophila melanogaster (the fruit fly!)

 © Photo credit: Image Editor

Fruit flies have been used as a genetic model since about 1910 for a number of reasons. One of these is that they have only 4 pairs of chromosomes, which makes it easy to track mutations, for one. Also, the fruit fly’s genome has been completely sequenced since 2000. Lastly, they are relatively inexpensive and very easy to breed and maintain, and their morphology (the way they look) is easily seen with the naked eye.

I can vividly recall my first year in basic genetics lab. We had to do all manner of experiments with genes and inheritance, and we spent a significant chunk of time doing experiments with these fruit flies. Every lab table in the class got two kinds of flies to cross and see what the resulting offspring looked like. The two my partner and I received were the female wild types, just think of them as normal, red-eyed fruit flies, and the mutant dumpy wing males, which have tiny wings. Because the dumpy wing mutant cannot fly, they had an extra-difficult time mating with the females, which were fully able to fly, albeit in a 4’x1’plastic tube. We decided we felt sorry for the men of the tube and decided to offer our ‘matchmaking’ services. Really all that meant was us singing ‘selections from Marvin Gaye’s Greatest Hits to a tube of flies in a serious, crowded-yet-quiet genetics laboratory at Texas A&M. The TA got a huge kick out of it and our boys ended up as successful as the rest of the flies in the room that day! The females laid their eggs and our experimentation continued. (Side note: See! There is NO reason science has to be stuffy!)

 © Photo credit: Ynse

 One of the most fascinating things about this type of research is that some Drosophila genes have homologs (genes with structural and functional likenesses) in other animals, even vertebrates like humans! My two favorites of these in Drosophila are the singed bristle gene (structural) and the Notch gene (functional). The singed bristle gene makes actin filaments cross link, the same as in human muscles. Remember, actin in humans’ muscles is imperative in allowing them to contract and move us along!

The Notch gene is involved in cellular communication in both flies and humans. This gene is the basis for development, immunity, tissue repair -basically, your cells can’t do their jobs without it. Problems with cell communication lead to diseases like cancer and even diabetes. Also, by studying and understanding the way cells talk to each other, we can offer more effective treatments and may one day be able to grow artificial tissue!!! Imagine the potential…all made possible because of legions of devoted researchers and the genes of a tiny fly.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (9.2.08)

Touchdown! The Tigers Win the Game!
He’s excited because he’s getting smarter.
Creative Commons License
photo credit: foundphotoslj

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

Crew aboard the International Space Station had a bit of excitement over the long weekend (on top of the presumably high levels created by living in space) – as they had to fire the station’s thrusters in a “debris avoidance maneuver.” This is a fancy way of saying they were about to be hit with space trash.

Not really a “team player?” No worries – even watching sports improves brain function.

The Rodney Dangerfield of the solar system: Astronomer Heidi Hammel wants you to know why the Icy Giants deserve more respect.

Even geniuses make mistakes: Einstein made at least 23 of them.

He was only 18 when he died, but King Tut may already have been a father – of twins.

Rap + Physics = awesome. A rap video about the science behind CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has been viewed over 600,000 times. It’s no dramatic hamster – but for a video about science, that’s pretty solid.

Meltdown: The Houston Chronicle weighed in on climate change today – what are your thoughts?

Science Doesn’t Sleep (7.29.08)

Creative Commons License photo credit: Andrew Seidl

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

It’s NASA‘s 50th anniversary – Wired salutes the agency with images of their most incredible extraterrestrial vehicles, while others ponder its future.

The Oil & Gas Investor blog has a great post on rising public interest in the energy industry – and their visit to our Wiess Energy Hall yesterday.

Scientists have discovered a new species of “predatory bagworm” (someone needs a new nickname) with a very unique habit.

China is taking extreme steps to clear its air before the Olympics – so, how are the athletes preparing to race, hurdle, dive and cycle in what seems to be incredibly persistent smog?

Researchers predict that by 2030, 9 out of 10 American adults will be overweight or obese.

Aging is not inevitable. It’s the result of specific genetic instructions – instructions that we may one day know how to turn off.

Glenn Martin has invented the “world’s first practical jetpack.” That’s right – jetpack. He’s unveiling it at EEA AirVenture, a gigantic annual air show – but you can see video of a test here.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (7.8.08)

Creative Commons License photo credit: william.ward

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

Are melting glaciers causing sea levels to rise? A team from Utrecht University says no. A team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is exploring that issue this month – check back here for updates from Chris Linder.

And you thought the Sun was harsh – “O” stars in the Rosetta Nebula “can be a hundred times the size and over a thousand times brighter” – and they destroy planets.  

Despite the fact that scientists have traditionally been wary of Wikipedia – which relies on the “wisdom of crowds” – a new Gene Wiki is being developed to “describe the relationship and functions of all human genes.”

Ancient river camps show humans in Paris almost 10,000 years ago.

Researchers have developed a way to trick kidney cancer cells into killing themselves.  

The Chronicle has a new space blogCosmo.Sphere – written by a UT astronomer, a NASA vehicle systems engineer and a long-time amateur astronomer.