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