Friday, April 19, 2013
The fruit fly, drosophila melongaster, (parenthetically, why would you hang a ten-foot moniker on something like that?) is a handy critter for genetic labs because it breeds so quickly - Wikipedia informs me it's ten days, but I could swear it's a lot faster than that - and because they are easily anesthetized and sexed.
In my own high school days my teacher - oh, what was his name? - I can remember how he looked. We students found him contemptible because he was bald, gray-haired and wore glasses, and - say! Wait a minute! Anyway, I was put into a group with Bruce Greenwall and Pete Warnick, and having anesthetized the little rascals with a cloth soaked in ether (we were warned not to over-anesthetize them or it could result in sterility or even death) we placed them under the microscope to find a little boy fruit fly and a little girl fruit fly. There, as Hamlet put it, was the rub.
Male and female fruit flies, even under the microscope, are a lot harder to differentiate than is widely believed by biology teachers. All this talk about how easy it is to tell them apart, is pretty much hype as far as I'm concerned. I attach an actual diagram from the Wikipedia article which notes, "Males are easily differentiated from females." Note that word "easy." Okay, wiseguys, you tell them apart. Bear in mind, the little circles with the arrow and the plus sign do not actually appear in nature.
Before Bruce, Pete, and I could determine if the fruit fly in question were a hulking he-man fruit fly or a delicate feminine one, it began to recover from its ether and move around. Afraid to re-anesthetize it and possibly sterilize or even kill it, thus depriving it of the joy of its full fruit-fly life, and thereby receiving an "F" in the lab, we three hit upon the obvious solution: instead of putting only two fruit flies in our little fruit fly jar with its yummy smear of Purina Fruit Fly Chow in the bottom, we put eight fruit flies. Surely, we reasoned, with that many, we'd end up with at least one male and one female.
And we did.
In case you didn't know, when a Mommy and Daddy fruit fly love each other very much, in about ten days, God lets them have up to a hundred baby fruit flies. And they don't have any favorites; they love all their children equally. In fact, they love their children just as much as they love each other, if you catch my drift. And the children love each other. So if you start the lab on Monday before Spring Break, when you come back after Spring Break, you have approximately 10,000 fruit flies. That's if you start with just two.
I'm not sure how many fruit flies Bruce, Pete, and I ended up with, but it was a hell of a lot more than 10,000 I can tell you. Even though we're only talking about fruit flies here, our jar was noticeably fuller than anyone else's. They were not so many as to blot the sun from the sky, but there were a lot, so many that we feared if Mr What's-is-Name the science teacher noticed, he'd suspect we'd shirked the sexing part of the fruit fly experiment and give us an "F." So we did what any right-thinking high school student would do: we added some of our fruit flies to all the other jars until the quantities looked approximately even. No doubt a few thousand of the little rascals escaped during the process to plague other classrooms up and down the hall.
I don't remember the results of the experiment, but I'm sure they made Gregor Mendel sit up in his grave, knock his head on his coffin lid, and mutter, "WTF." As I look back on it, the fruit fly lab wasn't a biological experiment at all, but an experiment in adolescent psychology and situational ethics.
So I've gone back to blaming myself for the fruit fly infestation - not that these particular fruit flies are the ones I released, but because karma is finally paying me back for that undetected crime of decades ago, just as it has paid me back for smirking at Mr What's-his-name for his bald head and glasses.
I had it coming.