You might think mice and rats are the answer to solving mankind's medical afflictions. I thought so too until I read that the lowly fruit fly may hold the key to restoring memory in humans. Turns out we have a lot in common, genetically speaking, with the common fruit fly, otherwise known as Drosophila. According to researchers at NASA's Ames Research Center, about 61% of known human disease genes match the little bugger's genetic code.
That's why these flies have been used in myriad genetic experiments, ranging from the most seriously important research on why our two species like sweets to the less important issue of how to prevent cancer. So before you swat them away from that oozing and delectable ripe plum, remember that they are the soldiers on the front line of neurogenesis --a new way of generating brain cells.
Still, this latest study from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories defies credibility. For starters, the lead researcher is a guy named Josh, which pretty much puts him in the under 40 crowd, rendering him unqualified to know much about memory loss. OK, so the exception was Joshua "Josh" Lederberg, the molecular biologist and Nobel Laureate, who died last month at age 83. (Even hard science acknowledges exceptions.)
The headline on the press release reads, "Scientists Identify a Mechanism that Helps Fruit Flies Lock in Memories." When did they discover that fruit flies were absent minded? Come on, Josh Dubnau, Ph.D, there has to be more to this story than simply measuring the strength and plasticity in these little creatures synapses and their connections, which everyone knows play a vital role in both memory formation and learning. And although it's interesting that you've identified the genes that flies need for memory, including one called Pumilio that's a lot like one of our genes, it's not enough. Here's what we need you to do to make this study truly credible.
First, separate the fruit flies into the classic "7 ages of flies." Since fruit flies live between 20 and 30 days, we can easily do the math:
• 1-2 days: Leave the nest and go to college
• 3-8 days: Choose a career and a mate
• 9-12 days: Regret career and marital choices
• 13-17 days: Inevitable decline begins
• 18-22 days: Move to Florida
• 23-26 days: Start a blog like everyone else
• 26-til the end: Donate genes to science
Even though it may seem like remembering things for a month is a piece of cake (I mean pie), few know that the male fruit fly typically suffers from mid-life crisis, which can lead to memory loss. Instead of apples and oranges, cherries and peaches, they exhibit a taste for rare and exotic fruit and tarts.
Next, the memory survey:
1. Have you ever forgotten
a) The name of someone you just met b) Your second cousin c) Your cell phone d) Your anniversary e) All of the above
2. Have you ever misplaced your glasses?
3. Which is correct:
a) No Country for Old Flies b) The Lives of Them c) Superfly d) There Will be Juice
4. How many times have you had to call your wife or doorman to let you in your home because you forgot your keys?
a) 1-5 b) 5-10 c) 10 or more
Finally, the memory test. Each fly in each group would be given a pre-programmed laptop computer. They would simultaneously play a game like "Concentration," where they'd have to match images like Professor Plum and Fiona Apple in order to win. Some would be odd things like pencils or humans.
Anyway, Josh, let us know when you've done the real heavy lifting on this experiment. And don't forget to videotape your results.
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