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Fruit Fly Mutations: Eye & Wing

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, we'll take a look at one of the most commonly studied insects: fruit flies. Specifically you're going to learn about some of the eye and wing mutations commonly seen in fruit flies.

The Common Fruit Fly

Have you ever looked really closely at a fruit fly? Did you know that they aren't necessarily all the same? Just like every other living thing, fruit flies can experience mutations, where there is something in their genes that causes them to be different in some way than their parents. In fact, mutations are the basis for evolution because beneficial mutations are passed along to offspring so they can be better suited to their environment. Mutations are most easily seen over the course of generations so that you can compare the mutated animal to its parents.

However, with a lot of animals, this kind of thing can be hard to observe. One reason fruit flies (Drosophilia melanogaster) are great for observing mutations is that they can easily be kept in a lab and they have multiple generations in very short time periods because of their short life spans. That way, scientists can see how often mutations reoccur without having to wait years for new babies. They can also have multiple groups of fruit flies, which help them determine how common the mutations really are.

The short life span of fruit flies is useful for observing how they mutate
Fruit fly

Eye Mutations

Mutations are often unpredictable, but there are some that reoccur regularly in fruit flies. These have to do with the phenotype, or physical appearance of the fly. Phenotype changes in fruit flies are easy to notice because fruit flies mostly look the same. In particular, there are several mutations related to their eyes.

Regular fruit flies, referred to as 'wild type' fruit flies, have red eyes. Most of the mutations in fruit fly eyes have to do with coloration. Two of the most common are for fruit flies to be born with white or orange eyes. The change in color doesn't affect their eyesight at all, just as humans can have different colored eyes and still see well.

Fruit flies can also be born with no eyes at all and these fruit flies are blind. All of these mutations are recessive. That means both parents have to be carrying a gene for the different eye type in order for the offspring to be born with it.

Wing Mutations

Fruit flies also have two common mutations associated with wing shape. Unlike the changes in eye color, altered wing shapes do affect the fruit fly and its ability to live a normal life.

Wild type fruit flies have straight, flat wings. Based on the fact that this is a very common insect wing shape, you can determine that this is an ideal wing shape for flying. Sometimes though, fruit flies are born with extremely short wings. Fruit flies with this mutation are referred to as having short wings or vestigial (a small remnant of something that used to be larger) wings. Fruit flies with vestigial wings cannot fly. This mutation is also recessive.

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