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Mutant fruit fly names range from fun to disturbing

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Fruit flies are a great favorite of scientists — especially geneticists. And those geneticists really enjoy studying fruit fly mutants. They've shown their appreciation for these mutants with some seriously weird nicknames.

Although they are nothing like humans, fruit flies carry the 65 percent of the genes that have led to the development of human diseases. They sleep at night, and so have one important human behavior. And they are born and die within two weeks, making them easy to study over multiple generations. Scientists have studied them for decades, and have found many useful genes. When a scientists discovers a gene that controls a certain function, they get to name it, and the fruit fly trait that it produces.


The names that have come out of fruit fly research are sometimes cute, and sometimes ghoulish. In fact, the Human Genome Organization Gene Nomenclature Committee is pushing to have some genes renamed. A gene named “sonic hedgehog” because it results in oddly shaped heads in fruit flies was shown to be linked to serious cranial problems in humans. No one wants to be flippant when explaining horrible medical problems. Still, there are many names which remain uncontested.

Maggie: A gene that keeps fruit flies from developing past a certain stage. Named for Maggie Simpson.


Ken and Barbie: A gene that removes the fly’s genitalia.

Cheap Date or Lush: A gene that leaves the flies very susceptible to alcohol.

Out Cold: The fruit fly that loses motor control and coordination below certain temperatures.

Groucho Marx: Facial hair.

Kenny: Without this gene, a fly dies after two days. There are many scientists South Park fans out there, it seems.


Cleopatra: This mutation seems to be fatal if the Asp gene interacts with it.

Methuselah and I’m Not Dead Yet: Both make flies live longer.

Tinman: Has no heart.

All pretty funny (and the Cleopatra is especially clever) but not something anyone would want applied to them.


Via NY Times, NPR, Curious Taxonomy, and What-When-How