Drosophila is the small fruit fly (so-called because of the fondness of the species for rotting fruit) that has played a big part in the development of modern genetic science. The Drosophila melanogaster species, in particular, is one of the animals with the very best known patterns of inheritance after the wealth of extensive studies that have been performed upon it. The extensive studying of Drosophila melanogaster in inheritance studies has meant that it is often used by developmental biologists as a model organism, for example.
There are several properties of Drosophila melanogaster that make it particularly useful in conducting inheritance studies. Firstly, it is easy to acquire a supply of the flies from the wild, meaning that as many experiments can be performed as funding allows. Secondly, the generation times are short, meaning that many generations of fly can be studied during a relatively short length of study. Thirdly, mutants, such as the white eyed variety found by Thomas Hunt in the early twentieth century, are easy to obtain, these individuals being central to the study.
Hunt was to go on to win the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1933 for his work based on Drosophila melanogaster. The advance he made to earn this honour was the identification of chromosomes as the structures that served as vectors for genetic inheritance. This advance depended on the Drosophila melanogaster fruit fly’s useful feature, in that random genetic changes would appear clearly and distinctly in the adult animal.
This has led researchers to become highly familiar with the inheritance patterns of traits such as eye colour and body colour. Eye colour comes in brown, cinnabar, sepia, vermillion, white, and wild, types for example. Body colour, meanwhile, comes in yellow, ebony, and black types. These traits can be linked to each other. So, for example, the fly with sepia eyes has an ebony body and the fly with brown eyes has a black body.
The various Drosophila species have been the subject of a Drosophila Species Genome Project which would ideally like to map the whole genome of each of the hundreds of different species. This information can be useful to a variety of researchers not only in genetics, but also in cell biology, biochemistry, and developmental biology. To help with future research, cultures of many species of Drosophila are stored at San Diego’s Drosophila Stock Center. This incredibly useful and influential model organism will certainly be of use to researchers for some years to come.