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The Humble Fruit Fly Plays a Starring Role

Who knew that using fruit flies could inform treatments for sleep disorders, obesity, mental health disorders, and other health problems.

Well that’s what the most recent Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine have succeeded in doing.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences honored Jeffrey Hall of the University of Maine, Michael Rosbash of Brandeis University in Massachusetts, and Michael Young of Rockefeller University in New York City for “paradigm-shifting discoveries” that “established key mechanistic principles for the biological clock.”

Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young during a lecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Sept. 25. PHOTO: HANDOUT/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young during a lecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Sept. 25. PHOTO: HANDOUT/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

“The work of these Nobel laureates to help us understand how our biological clocks work has shone a light on the significance of circadian rhythms on our health” said Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, which has supported the research for many years.

According to an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, the researchers used fruit flies to isolate the gene that controls normal biological rhythms and discover how proteins encoded in that gene ebb and flow in a cyclical pattern. These biological rhythms affect our mood, metabolism, energy level, and other physiological conditions.

I’m guessing most of us think of fruit flies as pests, and there are dozens of web sites that offer solutions on how best to take care of a fruit fly problem. Since we typically have a lot of fruit in our house, we have had our fair share of fruit flies. My wife has created a fairly effective fruit fly trap that involves an empty soda bottle (except for some very ripe fruit at the bottom of the bottle), a piece of paper shaped into a funnel, and tape to keep the funnel in place and to seal the opening of the bottle. The flies can get in, but they can’t get out.

from the Food Channel at http://www.myfoodchannel.com/fruit-fly-trap/
from the Food Channel at http://www.myfoodchannel.com/fruit-fly-trap/

After reading about how these scientists used fruit flies in such a meaningful way, I don’t think I’ll ever look at fruit flies the same way again. I almost feel motivated to set up multiple fruit fly traps, collect the flies,  and then donate them to the NIH. But I’m sure the NIH has more effective ways to get the flies they need.

So congratulations to the Nobel Prize winners; it’s inspiring to see people who have likely devoted a significant part of their life to something be rewarded for their efforts. I wish them continued success.

And pardon the pun, but I think I’ll even sleep better tonight knowing there are people like this working to make our lives better.

 

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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