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    The Politics of the Fruit Fly
    By Michael Windelspecht | October 25th 2008 09:32 PM | 4 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    The political fray has entered into the world of genetics, and as usual, our politicians have no real idea what they are talking about. In an October 24th speech about children with special needs, Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for Vice-President, made the following statement about funding for
    IDEA, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
    “This is a matter of how we prioritize the money that we spend. We've got a three trillion dollar budget, and Congress spends some 18 billion dollars a year on earmarks for political pet projects. That's more than the shortfall to fully fund the IDEA. And where does a lot of that earmark money end up? It goes to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good -- things like fruit fly research in Paris, France or a public policy center named for the guy who got the earmark. In our administration, we're going to reform and refocus. We're going to get our federal priorities straight, and fulfill our country's commitment to give every child opportunity and hope in life” (Sarah Palin - Oct 24, 2008 speech)
    There is no doubt that more money needs to be spent on research and education of people with disabilities. However, the assumption here is that fruit fly research is a waste of time and money. Nothing could be further from the truth. The simple fact that we have an understanding of genetics can be traced back to Thomas Hunt Morgan and the first use of fruit flies.Since then, four Nobel Prizes, including one to Thomas Hunt Morgan (1933), have gone to "fruit-fly" researchers. Obviously the scientific community values the contributions of the fruit fly to the study of genetics.

    The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has around 19,000 genes. In humans, if a disease is linked to a specific gene, there is around a 70% chance that a similar gene exists in Drosophila.  Drosophila is a model organism for the study of many human-releated diseases, including behavior, aging disorders, Parkinson's, and Alzheimers

    Research into Drosophila genomics paved the way for the Human Genome Project. In other words, research using fruit flies, and other model organisms such as the mouse, nematode (C. elegans), and weed (Arabidopsis thaliana) are critical towards our understanding of the molecular world of inheritance and disease.

    Time to get some Straight Talk. We owe thanks to geneticists who use this model organism, not ridicule.

    Additional links:

    A Brief History of Drosophila’s Contributions to Genome Research

    A Systematic Analysis of Human Disease-Associated Gene Sequences In Drosophila melanogaster

    Homophila: human disease gene cognates in Drosophila


    That Drosophila research is valuable is unquestionable. But all such research should be funded through the usual peer reviewed channels, and not short circuited through the political earmarks game. I see Palin's remark as referring specifically to earmarked research rather than generally to all fruit fly research.

    That may be true, but these comments could also be part of a much larger plan by the GOP to control scientific funding in general. This was a policy of the Bush Administration, and very likely would be a characteristic of a McCain Administration
    This is a very good summary of the importance of the fruit fly. 'Everybody' knows that studying the fruit fly is by far only about the fruit fly. That 'everybody' refers of course to the minimum educated population.

    Sarah Palin demonstrated beyond any doubt her unforgivable ignorance. Even worse, she demonstrated a contempt for science and its importance in our society. She was definitely mocking fruit fly research in general, not only earmarked funding of such research. If you watch the video of her speech that is overly evident.

    Had I been religious I would have prayed for American science now.

    Happy election!
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    I agree completely Bente - as I commented on above, history tells us that the GOP is not science-friendly, and Palin's statements suggest that this environment would continue under a McCain Administration.