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Friday, April 5, 2002


Fruit fly

* Japanese name: Shojobae
* Scientific name: Drosophila melanogaster
* Description: This is a tiny (3-mm) fly, with red eyes and one pair of wings. It is almost too small to notice, yet the fruit fly is one of the world's most important organisms. Study of the fruit fly led directly to the science of genetics, and it is now one of the most well-understood animals in existence. The fruit-fly genome has been sequenced: It has roughly 14,000 genes, less than half the number found in humans.
* Where to find them: Often around bowls of fruit in people's houses, but also in gardens and parks.
* Food: Rotting fruit. Females lay eggs 0.5 mm long into soft parts of fruit, and the next day a wormlike larva hatches out. The larva grows and molts four times, before forming an immobile pupa. Inside the pupa the larva's body is completely remodeled; a few days later an adult, winged fly emerges.
* Special features: One of the most important things we've learned from fruit flies is how organisms grow from an egg to an embryo to a fully developed adult. Like the instructions for baking a cake, genes tell the embryo what to do at each stage of development -- and make those things happen, like a recipe that cooks itself. One gene might control how much of a certain protein gets made, like the recipe directing how much egg goes into the cake. It turns out that many of the genes in the fruit-fly recipe are the same as in the human recipe. This means that not only do some genes in flies and humans do the same thing, but they also have a common origin, far in our evolutionary past.

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