Fly: The Unsung Hero of Twentieth Century Science

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9780066212517: Fly: The Unsung Hero of Twentieth Century Science

There's a buzz in the air, the sound of a billion wings vibrating to the tune of scientific success. In biology labs across the world, fruit flies are turning up answers to some of the basic questions of life. It's business as usual for the fly, which for generations has been defining biology's major landmarks. From genetics to development, behavior to aging, and evolution to the origin of species, the fruit fly has been a key player in some of the twentieth century's greatest biological discoveries.Techniques to pinpoint genes that play a role in human disease depend on genetic mapmaking principles first established with the fly. It was experiments on fruit flies that opened our eyes to the dangers of radiation to human health. In fact, everything from gene therapy to cloning to the Human Genome Project is built on the foundation of fruit fly research. Despite its many achievements, the fruit fly remains an unsung hero in the history of science. At last, here is a book that gives the fly its long overdue credit.In a highly original, witty, and irreverent style, Martin Brookes takes us through successive stages in the life cycle of the fly, each illustrating an important concept in biology. Some, such as the fundamentals of heredity, are well established; others, such as sexual warfare, learning, and memory, are still in their infancy. But whether flies are getting high on crack cocaine, enjoying the pleasures and pains of a boozy night out, being trained by punishment and reward, or struggling with insomnia, this book provides a glimpse of how one short life has informed almost every aspect of human existence. The result is a broad introduction to biology with insights into the practical realities of science.Often dismissed as irrelevant outside academic circles, the fruit fly, through this distinctive biography, will come to be recognized for what it really is: an icon of twentieth-century science and a window on our own biological world.

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Review:

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana, and biologists like fruit flies. Evolutionary geneticist and science journalist Martin Brookes explores the not-quite-microscopic world of Drosophila in Fly: The Unsung Hero of 20th-Century Science. Instantly familiar to any student of high school biology, the fruit fly is one of the most thoroughly studied organisms in the world; far more is known about its genetics and behavior than about those of our own species. Brookes tackles his tiny subjects with an enthusiastic wit, sharing tales of his own and others' lab work dating back to the 19th century. As his story unfolds, the spirit of scientific investigation shines through, with all its reliance on blind chance and quirky obsessions.

Back in the late 1970's, extreme mutants were all the rage. Take a trip round a hip and happening fruit fly laboratory and you might have been forgiven for thinking that you had stumbled across a fruit fly house of horrors. In the search for new mutants, flies were being force-fed mutagenic chemicals and were leaving a trail of disfigured descendants in their wake.

The interested reader will get insight not just into the scientific process, but also into the life of the fly itself. Birth, death, mating, learning--just about every aspect of the creature's life has been documented meticulously, and that level of detail can't help but yield some juicy bits. Though we find their feeding habits distasteful and their courtship maddeningly complex, maybe flies aren't so different from us, after all. Brookes's enthusiasm is catching, and Fly will send readers running to their kitchens to catch a glimpse of these scientific superstars. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

Martin Brookes has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology and spent eight years in biological research. He hates flies.

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