Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Invasion of the Fruit Fly

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Invasion of the Fruit Fly

It’s the little things that matter in life sometimes. I can’t solve the problems of the world, but I do expect to control who lives in my house. For the past two years, I’ve had a pest problem. It’s not the two-legged or four-legged variety. It’s the common fruit fly, scientifically known as drosophila melanogaster.

In my quest for knowledge about my enemy, I found both plants and animals on the North Carolina list of invasive things. The familiar kudzu, cocklebur, horseweed, and even mint, were among the plants needing control. Beaver, alligators, fire ants, and starlings are on the list of animals in our area that are of recent concern.

In fact, fruit flies might not be invasive, but they are obnoxious to most people who find them in their homes. One hundred years ago people who were innocent of the concept of a fly even having a life cycle, thought that they just “spontaneously generated” if they left a piece of meat lying around. It wasn’t until the 17th century that an Italian doctor experimented and found out the truth.

The little creatures prefer ripe fruit which contains the ingredients needed for their diet. Once they are established in your house, they can survive on a variety of nutrients like sludge in the sink drain, a sour mop, damp flour, or food fermenting in crevices. They can then patiently wait for you to bring more fruit into the house so that they can continue their productive life cycle.

So how do you rid yourself of the pests and hope that they live happily ever after somewhere else? The internet offers many home remedies, and you can even buy fruit fly traps at hardware and home and garden stores. As an experiment, we set up two types of traps at our house using apple cider vinegar, dish washing detergent, and different types of covers. Both versions did an excellent job of trapping the vermin. Then they landed in the mixture and died.

Scientists have used the fruit flies for years as substitutes for humans in genetic research. They are useful because they reproduce so quickly that many generations can be studied in a short time. Their genome has been completely mapped, and they have been used in the study of human diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

They have also been used to study how space travel affects genes. It is thought that the gravitational forces that animals are exposed to in space travel may cause genes to express themselves by commanding cells to make different proteins. Ultimately, this activity might cause changes in many cells in the body. The history of the use of fruit flies by scientists is fascinating.

The moral to my story could be that we need to be careful how we judge things. What is a pest to you might be the key to finding solutions for life in the future. Who knew?
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