Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fruitfly v. Palin

D.M. and Olbermann both reference Sarah Palin's attack on frivolous fruit fly research.

There's been a major pushback. I note this is the third time biology research grants have come up in the campaign. First McCain attacked earmarks for studying those undeserving grizzly bears. Then, Democrats shot back with Palin's earmarks to study harbor seals.

One of the many P.R. problems of science is that virtually all research topics can be made to sound silly - who cares about glowing jellyfish, and who wrote that grant for counting the number of cells in a worm, anyway?

Perhaps the real reason Palin hates the fruit fly isn't about wasting money, it's about the culture wars. The fruit fly looms in this arena, even to a greater extent than it is loomed over in everyday life. Think you can pray away the gay? Meet fruitless. Some mutations make male flies try to mate with other males, others remove gender preference, or create flies with no interest in mating.

There isn't a gene in mammals that seems directly related to fruitless (a homolog, in the parlance). However, such genes do exist for other diseases, for instance myc, a determinant of cell growth, and thus cancer. Our ability to productively apply research from Drosophila myc to our understanding of human cancer blows a huge practical hole in Genesis Creationism, or the 'Orchard Model' of several special creations. If everything was created separately, why are they so similar? And if they were intelligently made similar enough to be studied, why not make them identical?

If you just want to ignite the culture wars, any attack on science will do, but an attack on the fruit fly covers so many more bases.

No comments: