Monday, October 27, 2008

For the love of fruit flies and olives

Perhaps, at this late date, you are one of those people who has not managed to make up your mind about where to cast your support in next Tuesday's national election. A humorous commentary from David Sedaris on undecided voters can be found here. His assessment beside the point, I'm assured that such people, even after being hit over the head with constant messages from both parties for nearly a year now, do exist. Perhaps, if after all the arguments over the economy, the war, healthcare, energy resources, executive experience, and wardrobes you still have not made up your mind, I can sway you with an argument for fruit fly research and the fate of the olive industry.

Many of you know that I did my doctoral research on aspects of fruit fly development. A topic near and dear to my heart, fruit flies have provided the basis for a century of scientific discovery and breakthroughs. A complex organism that is easy to raise and genetically manipulate, it so kicks the butt of many other model systems (sorry, M., but my model system eats your model system for breakfast, literally - there's just no contest between yeast and drosophila). Fruit flies were used to show that genes are located on chromosomes, for crying out loud. How much more fundamental and basic can one get? And there's more. Just about every known human disease gene has a fruit fly counterpart. They are used to study even the most complex of human conditions, like alcoholism, autism, memory/learning, cancer... the list goes on and on.

So, clearly, we have established the validity of pursuing scientific research on the tiny fruit fly, right? Apparently, this opinion is not shared by the McCain campaign.

Sarah Palin, she who allowed pork barrel funding to build a road in Alaska to the Bridge to Nowhere, which was never itself built due to an uproar around the country (or something like that), hence making this road a true Road to Nowhere, took it upon herself to criticize earmarks, a pet reform project of McCain's. Now, I'm not going to try to argue whether earmarks have any value (some definitely do, though) or what improvements need to be made to our earmark system. I'm here to defend fruit flies. And olives.

You see, Sarah Palin, in providing an example of the worthlessness of earmark spending, highlighted one project in particular as an example of pork barrel funding that, to her, is not in the public's best interest. This project involves, you guessed it, fruit fly research. You can read an assessment of her comments here, which though not unbiased is hopefully at least factual and informative.

Sarah Palin ridiculed the research in question, which apparently involves investigation into the olive fruit fly, a pest that has been terrorizing the California olive crop. Yes, this is different than the ivory tower fruit fly I lauded above. The research here is seeking to understand the olive fruit fly so that we may kill it, not unlock genetic mysteries that will lead to advances in human medicine. But her statement didn't go into that kind of detail, it just ridiculed fruit fly research as a whole. Way to be dismissive of all those past and future scientific discoveries we owe to the fruit fly, hmm?

The link above includes a discussion of the olive and olive oil markets, both national and international. Apparently the olive fruit fly is quite a blight on olive crops, a serious problem. Now, who doesn't love a good tapenade, I ask you? Bruschetta? Spaghetti aglio e olio? Cocktail and intimate dinner parties would never recover from an olive extinction. If that doesn't sway you, just think of my poor, picky, nutrient-deficient toddler, whose list of edible fruits includes just 6 items (banana, pear, apple, pineapple, orange slices, and olives). If all the olives are gone, we're down to just 5! Then what will he have on his pizza?? The horrors are unthinkable.

I have been assured, by the way, by the ever-reliable Internet that the olive is most definitely a fruit. Which I guess is why it is being attacked by a fruit fly... huh, don't I feel dumb. My original plea was going to include the olive as one of the 5 vegetables that Finn will deign to eat, but it being a fruit and all... This means Finn's vegetable list is down to 4 items(peas, corn, carrots, and the occasional french fry, which is also of dubious but definitely arguable vegetable origin). None of which he will actually eat on a regular, predictable basis.

If you have any positive feelings toward fruit fly research, olives, or my son's limited picky toddler diet, please, vote Obama/Biden next week!


  1. I wasn't going to comment, because I try to stay clear of political stuff on the web (generally). But I do have to say regardless of who wins, the choice of Palin is outright scary. I have no idea what McCain was thinking, but he just was NOT thinking about the future. If that woman is the future of the Republican party and thinks she might be president someday - well, this country is NOT the country I believe in. And a country with her as a president is not a country I want my boys to grow up in. Scary, scary, scary.

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  3. LOL!! Came over through your comment on Mommy, Esq.'s blog. . .

    I agree with Donna - Palin is *scary*

    ...but I didn't come over here to comment on that ;)

    My hubby is a cancer researcher, and while his primary "target" is mice...he does dabble in the fruit fly. (or at least, collaborates with the lab next door who uses them.) Crazy to think that they're useless.