Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Importance of Fruit Flies

Apparently Palin and the GOP have no idea about how scientific research works. An why would they? They reject evolution for the belief that the world is 6,000 years old. Following is a wonderful diary from DailyKos from a scientist who explains it all...

Of Flies and Worms: Model Systems for Research
by mole333
Sat Oct 25, 2008 at 10:58:14 AM PDT

Sarah Palin thought she had a funny one liner about "fruit fly research" in Paris, France..."I kid you not." And golly gee, the crowd of right wing nuts she was speaking to guffawed on cue, yuck yuck yuck.

Sarah Palin, it's not useless earmarks. It's called science, that thing that leads to actual discoveries, gives America a competitive edge and actually cures or mitigates the severity of many human illnesses. I am sick and tired of Republican anti-intellectualism. Eisenhower would be appalled at the stupidity displayed by Palin and her audience. Republicans used to value science. Now they consider it nothing but the butt of lame jokes.

I am a research biologists at New York University's Medical Center. I don't work on fruit flies. I work on a model system I am sure Palin would find even more joke worthy. I work on worms. They are called model systems and amazing discoveries, not to mention Nobel Prizes, come from this kind of research.

* mole333's diary :: ::

On Kieth Olbermann, Richard Wolffe of Newsweek put it this way, and he says this is being restrained:

"This is the most mindless, ignorant, uninformed comment that we have seen from Governor Palin so far, and there's been a lot of competition for that prize."

I will not be restrained. It is not only ignorant, stupid and idiotic, but it is outright dangerous as it suggests that we should not be funding critical research done in model systems like fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) or worms (Caenorhabditis elegans).

What is a model system? It is an animal that is easy to work with and whose genetics is easy to manipulate and observe that can give us insights into human biology and disease. For details, go here.

Here is a brief description of model systems, particularly Drosophila as a model system:

In the 20th century, there were two decades during which Drosophila melanogaster was the most significant model organism and each decade led to the establishment of new scientific disciplines. The first decade was roughly from 1910 and during this period a small group at Columbia University, headed by Thomas Hunt Morgan, established the rules of transmission genetics with which we are all familiar. In the second decade, roughly from 1970, many of the principles and techniques of the earlier period were used to determine the genetic control of basic aspects of the biology of organisms, notably their development and their behaviour. In this review I will show that it was not only the genius of the research workers (five were awarded Nobel Prizes and it has been argued, with justification, that at least one more should have been awarded) but also the special features of D. melanogaster that led to these advances.

THAT is what Palin was deriding and the right wingers were guffawing about. And just what research in Paris might she have been laughing at?

Could it be the work of Yohanns Bellaïche on cell polarity in asymmetric cell division and differentiation, issues basic to developmental biology?

Or was it Bruno Lemaitre studying the mechanisms of microbial infection and host defense using Drosophila as a model system?

Or perhaps Jacques Montagne studying the integration cellular growth (i.e. cell size increase) and proliferation in coordination with nutrient availability?

And this just names a few. Each of these are key areas of research in development, immunology and/or cancer research. And Palin thinks they are not important.

Drosophila research began with Thomas Hunt Morgan who ultimately won the Nobel Prize for his work. Morgan dsicovered the phenomenon sex-linked—characters, which led to the understanding of sex chromosomes. Prior to this painstaking work in fruit flies we didn't understand how gender was determined.

Since then Nobel Prizes have been awarded for the following work in fruit flies: (not comprehensive)

Hermann Muller: 1946 for the discovery that X-rays cause mutations

George W. Beadle: 1958 for the discovery of the "one gene-one enzyme" theory of gene of the most fundamental theories (though since modified) of genetics.

Edward B. Lewis, Christiane Nusslein-Volhard and Eric F. Wieschaus: 1995 for discovering how the very early stages of embryogenesis are controlled

Richard Axel and Linda Buck: 2004 who used Drosophila as part of their work identifying the molecular basis for the sense of smell (olfactory receptors)

I work in another model system. To Sarah Palin it probably is even more laughable than fruit flies. I work on microscopic soil worms called C. elegans. My research is in the role of insulin signaling in development and is getting to some very fundamental aspects of how organs develop and what controls the balance between cell division and cell differentiation, something that goes wrong in cancer.

But to Sarah Palin my work is just some unimportant work on worms. Microscopic worms, no less!

The originator of fruit fly research was Thomas Morgan. With C. elegans it was Sydney Brenner, who specifically set out to discover the ideal model organism. Nobel prizes awarded to C. elegans research includes:

John Sulston, Robert Horvitz and Sydney Brenner: 2002 for research into the genes that control development and cell death

Andrew Fire and Craig Mello: 2006 for discovery of an RNA-based method for controlling the expression of proteins

Martin Chalfie (sharing with others working in other organisms): 2008 for the discovery and application of Green Fluorescent protein...which has become one of the fundamental tools in all biological research and was the basis for my last four or five publications on protein localization of oncogenes in mammalian cells.

So my basic question is this: just what about all of this does Sarah Palin and the Republican Party find so objectionable?

For those who want to uphold science in the face of right wing attacks (and idiocy!), I can recommend three groups.

Union of Concerned Scientists: UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.

National Center for Science Education: providing information and resources for schools, parents and concerned citizens working to keep evolution in public school science education. We educate the press and public about the scientific, educational, and legal aspects of the creation and evolution controversy, and supply needed information and advice to defend good science education at local, state, and national levels.

Scientists and Engineers for America: Our mission is to facilitate evidence-based decision making at all levels of government. Our programs include both a short-term focus on the 2008 national elections – through the SHARP Network – and a long-term focus on building a more engaged and politically active scientific community – through SEA Chapters and the Campaign Education and Training program. Click here to become a member of SEA and to sign up for our daily Science Policy News Alerts!

No comments: