The Drosophila melanogaster, known to most as the fruit fly, has been used in research for over a hundred years to study genetics. Scientists introduce mutations paired with physical markers, such as wing shape and eye color, into the flies. The researchers then breed the flies and use the markers to see how the mutations, or alleles, get passed from generation to generation. The flies are bred in containers where they are fed with a sweet and sticky concoction. To control the breeding of the next generation, the new flies must be separated within six hours of hatching. Typically, the need for separation implies that the flies must be checked every six hours, a process which can become quite tedious. Nils Neuenkirchen, who does research with the fruit flies at the medical school, has designed and created a container which allows for the individual storage of the flies, making the process more efficient. Individual test tubes are costly, but his reusable container allows him to easily and cheaply keep nineteen flies in a space the size of a petri dish. The container, which he calls the “Virgin Collector,” has sixfold symmetry and was constructed out of acrylic using the laser cutter in the CEID. In use, the acrylic piece is pushed up against a petri dish full of food and covered with a mesh membrane which constrains the flies but allows them to breath. Nils is currently training to use the metal shop so that he can make clips to close the device’s lid.
Nils switched to this field from biochemistry this past January and pointed out that coming from a different background allowed him to approach the situation with a new perspective. Many people in the field use the old technique because it functions and they are used to it. Though the container seems simple, it saves huge amounts of time.
Many of the diseases that occur in humans can be modeled with these flies, and because the flies have only four pairs of chromosomes instead of humans’ twenty-three, they are much easier to study. In a time where funding for research is sparse, Nils’ project finds an innovative way to improve the efficiency of this significant research.