I Feel Your Pain

by Rosie Sorenson – I used to have respect for fruit flies, but now I’m not so sure.  Males, it seems, fall into drinking a lot when frustrated. I do not respect men who get sloppy drunk.

You’re probably wondering, how does she know this? Has she been hanging around Fruit Fly Saloons? Spending time on Fruit Fly FaceBook? Does she subscribe to the Fruit Fly Frolic podcast? Nope. Got the intel the old fashioned way—in a magazine. You know, those things made out of paper? Still around.

I will tell you how I acquired this important piece of intel, but first, I must disclose my personal history with fruit flies. Years ago, I was desperate for a job to earn enough money to resume classes at the University of Iowa. The biology department posted an ad for a “Fruit Fly Sexer.” How hard could that be? When I went to the lab for the interview, the sandy-haired research assistant gave me a demonstration.

“This is how you do it,” he said, with a certain degree of smugness, I now recall. He brought out a clear plastic box full of fruit flies, and after inserting a probe began to separate the males from the females, pointing out the differences as he did so. Oh, right. This one’s Harry, that one’s Harriet. When he was finished, he mixed them all up again and handed the box to me.

“Here, you do it,” he said. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” 

Honest-to-God I did pay attention during the demonstration, and even nodded my head while murmuring, “I see….”  Well, now that I was on my own, I did not see. What was that he said about the marks on the legs, the elongation of the body? Ah, Geez. “Harry . . . Harriet . . . talk to me,” I whispered. “I need this job.” Harry and Harriet were mum so I started to flick one fruit fly into the male section, another into the female—what the heck, I’ve got a 50/50 chance, right? 

Well, no. The assistant returned, retrieved the box from me and said he’d call. He never did. What kind of loser can’t even get a job as a fruit fly sexer?  Don’t answer that.

Flash forward to today when I read the article exposing drunkenness in male fruit flies. Serves ‘em right. Would it have hurt them years ago to have given me a teensy sign? 

Researchers at UCSF discovered that if males are deprived from mating with females, they head for the alcohol, presumably to drown their sorrows. (Not sure what happens to the females if they don’t get to mate as much as they desire, but that’s a topic for another column on sexism in fruit fly research.)

So the next time you spot a fruit fly heading for your liquor cabinet, don’t give it a second thought. His girlfriend is probably out of town and the poor dude just needs to drown his sorrows in your best Johnny Walker Red.

We all have our issues.    

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