On a hot, summer afternoon in Madison, Wisconsin, I went to take the garbage out. I tied up the loose ends of the bag and took it out. Simple as that. But when I came inside, I looked at the inside of the garbage can and was horrified to find hundreds of maggots.
Plump white maggots were inching their way up and down the garbage can. Ughhh. We had a fruit fly infestation!
My instinct was to call for my husband, but he was nowhere to be found, so I was left with the task of getting rid of them on my own!
I filled the garbage can with water, added bleach, and let it sit for 10 minutes before pouring the concoction down the bathtub drain. Unfortunately, some maggots missed the drain, so the worst part was wiping up the remaining maggots. It was nauseating!
Two years later, we moved from Madison, Wisconsin to New Haven, Connecticut, and I started using fruit flies as a tool for my research.
I had never worked with fruit flies before, so I paid particular attention to learning about their life cycle. Interestingly, the thing about fruit flies that makes them effective research tools also makes them overwhelming pests; female fruit flies are reproductive machines!
In fact, when we dissect a female fruit fly, we can see that half of her body is filled with a pair of ovaries that can produce produce 500-1000 eggs (Ashburner; King).
Once an egg (see below) is laid, it takes approximately 10 days (depending on the temperature) for the egg to become an adult fruit fly (King).
At 77°F (or 25°C), the embryo within the egg takes one day to develop and hatch as a small larva. On the second day, the larva molts into a larger larva. On the third day, the larva molts into an even larger larva; this is the same age as the
maggots larvae I found in my garbage can!
On the fifth day, the larva molts into a brown, stationary, pupa for complete metamorphosis.
Finally, on the tenth day, the adult fruit fly emerges.
Within 12 hours of emerging, the adult is ready to start reproducing the next generation (Ashburner).
The coupling of the high egg production and the short development time until reproduction makes fruit flies an exceptional tool for biological research.
And while fruit flies seem to be so different from humans, 75% of genes that cause human disease are similar to genes found in fruit flies (Reiter et al.). Because of this, the information that we learn from fruit flies can help us to find new ways to treat human diseases like virus infections, memory loss, and cancer.
In my current research, I use fruit flies to study how a protein, called Piwi, prevents cancer causing mutations. To study, how Piwi prevents mutations, though, I need fruit flies and their larvae.
With a change of mind, I am now excited to see the maggots larvae that I once wanted to so desperately get rid of!
I don’t think that this change of mind is limited to the perception of the larvae used in my research. Instead, I think that when we can change our minds, we can change any perception.
With time, patience, and more information, things that we once considered to be unpleasant can be seen as essential, beautiful, and helpful.
Ashburner, M. Drosophila: A Laboratory Handbook. 2 vols. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 1989. Print.
King, Robert C. Ovarian Development in Drosophila Melanogaster. New York,: Academic Press, 1970. Print.
Reiter, L. T., et al. “A Systematic Analysis of Human Disease-Associated Gene Sequences in Drosophila Melanogaster.” Genome Res 11.6 (2001): 1114-25. Print.