Thursday, September 08, 2005
Time Flies Like an Arrow, Fruit Flies Like a Banana 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The head of a red-eyed Drosophila melanogasterFor some reason, my office is plagued with Drosophila melanogaster, commonly known as fruit flies. Perhaps my somewhat overripe banana is adding unnecessary appeal to an already fragrant area, but it's hard to tell your co-workers not to wear tons of perfume. As I write this, a red-eyed Drosophila taunts me from the top of my computer monitor. It's probably getting karmic revenge.

Why karmic revenge? My first job in college (after being hired as a mural painter at my old high school) was sexing fruit flies for the biology lab. No, I wasn't the entomological equivalent of a fluffer. To 'sex' flies, one first anesthetizes them. You take a sealed bottle containing a fly colony, and carefully insert a cotton swab soaked in a volatile chemical that smells suspiciously like poppers. Think ether-huffing Dr. Wilbur Larch in The Cider House Rules, only smaller and with compound eyes.

The trick is to apply just enough poppers Flynap™ (triethylamine) to send your flies to the Land of Nod without giving them a one-way ticket to Fly Valhalla. Once the flies stop moving, you open the bottle and shake out the flies (but not the eggs and larvae) onto a sheet of white paper. Under a stereoscopic microscope, you use a fine camel-hair brush to separate flies by sex, eye color, and wing size. This is easier said than done: flies are smaller than the brush, and don't seem as hung up on displaying secondary sex characteristics as humans. There seemed be a lot of butch and metrosexual flies in the colonies I sexed.

After you separate the flies, you shake them into new culture-media filled bottles to start their own eugenicized colonies, so college students can endlessly repeat Brother Gregor Mendel's genetic experiments for themselves since textbooks are so unconvincing. These days, between Intelligent Design mandates and banning of contraceptive sales on campus, we'll surely see inherited characteristics experiments of a different variety.

Let's just say that during those long ago hazy days, I accidentally sent more than a few of our winged friends to the Other Side. This was almost 20 years ago, but probably only a blink in the eye to the Great Fly in the Sky: I'm doomed to forever waft fruit flies away from my bananas.

UPDATE: About one hour ago, one of people in my office suite asked, "has everyone been having problems with flies, or is it just me?" I related my Drosophila dilemma, and promised to check into it. Five minutes later, said faculty member emerges from office, exclaiming, "I think I know where all those flies are coming from!" while holding a plastic grocery bag filled with soggy bananas so old they dripped brown juice on the floor.