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Fruit flies like a banana

Disclaimer: some science-related babble will follow. Avert thine eyes!




You all know what happens when you leave kiwi peels or a slice of tomato on the counter overnight, right? Fruit flies galore! I’m going to tell you something funny about the fruit fly, also known by its fancy Latin nomenclature Drosophila melanogaster.


Pay attention, there will be a quiz afterwards!

Fruit flies, God bless’em, are being studied in many labs. Drosophila freaks, also known as “fly guys” love fruit flies because they are fairly easy to study as model organisms.

Many genes have been discovered in Drosophila and later have been discovered to have a human homologue.

So since Drosophila’s DNA is really easy to manipulate (it only has 4 pairs of chromosomes) fly guys can knock-out a certain gene and observe the effect of the lack of that gene on the phenotype (traits) of the fly.

Now here’s the fun part: you would not believe the names scientists give to those newly-discovered genes!

Here are some examples I found on FlyNome.


Name of the gene: drop dead (symbol drd)

Story: After normal development and normal behavior of young adults, mutant flies begin to walk in an uncoordinated manner and rapidly die. All are dead by ten days post-eclosion.


Name of the gene: fruitless (previously known as fruity) (symbol fru)

Story: Fruitless is responsible for all aspects of courtship in Drosophila. The first fru mutants courted males and females indiscriminately. The gene was to be called "fruity", but the more politically correct "fruitless" was chosen.

[fruity because when the gene was discovered this was the popular term for “homosexual”]


Name of gene: jelly belly (symbol jeb)

Story: jeb mutants have no gut muscles. The endoderm and yolk in these embryos forms amorphous, gelatinous blobs, a phenotype reminiscent of the human condition of unconstrained trunkal obesity known as "jelly belly".


Name of gene: ken and barbie (symbol ken)

Story: The external genitalia are absent in some males and females. Thus these flies are named after the famous dolls who also lack these "features".

[This is by far my favorite 😀]


Name of the gene: kenny (symbol key)

Story: kenny homozygous adults [meaning mutant flies], when infected by Gram negative bacteria, die within two days. Thus their name, after the South Park cartoon character, who dies before the end of each episode.

[Oh my God, they killed Kenny!]


Name of the gene: prospero (symbol pros)


One of the phenotypes of prospero loss-of-function mutants is a change of cell fate. These flies were named after the main character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest because of Prospero’s presumed ability to influence fate.


Name of the gene: Purity of Essence (symbol poe or purity)

Story: The mutation causes male sterility. The name purity of essence is a reference to Dr. Strangelove, a film masterpiece by Stanley Kubrick. In the movie, General Jack D. Ripper has launched a preemptive nuclear strike against Russia based on his idea that fluoridation of water is a commie plot. Through a deliciously convoluted argument, he has reached the conclusion that it is all right for him to make love to a woman, but not to share with her his precious bodily fluids – his essence. The phrase purity of essence and its abbreviation, poe, turns out to play a critical role in the unfolding of the story.

[I thought the name choice was particularly original]


Name of the gene: rotated penis (symbol rp)

Story: As viewed from behind, external genitalia of males rotated counterclockwise, usually about 180 degrees.


Name of the gene: tinman (symbol tin)

Story: tinman is named after the Tinman from the Wizard of Oz, who laments, "If I only had a heart…." tinman mutant embryos do not form a heart, and also have problems in other aspects of mesoderm development.


Name of the gene: turnip (symbol tur)

Story: Homozygotes carrying the turnip mutation exhibit learning defects. The gene was named after a vegetable because vegetables are not well-known for their mental acuity.



Name of the gene: à voile et à vapeur (symbol Voila)

Story: This mutant was first named because heterozygous males displayed strong courtship towards both female and male flies, and thus in French the slang expression à voile et à vapeur which can be translated by "AC/DC" in English or "al pelo y a la pluma" in Spanish.

[I actually had to Google this one: à voile et à vapeur means bisexual, referring to boats which can either be sail boats (more feminine) or steam boats (more masculine)]





And now the quiz: Can somebody explain the title of this post?


Speaking of bugs, check out this ant carrying a piece of leaf probably 100x its weight!

[taken at the Insectarium in Montreal]



Comments (2)

  • -@Alexandra: Well, you kinda sorta gave us a hint with the “Puns for smart kids” post, though, as I said, I only caught on after reading the first lines of this one. But I’ll let the other smartpants have a go at it. 🙂

  • @Alex : “Speaking of bugs, check out this ant carrying a piece of leaf probably 100x its weight!”

    If ants were as big as humans, their legs wouldn’t even be able to support their own weight 😛


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