Another research breakthrough…

The 20th century was filled with more than its share of astounding scientific breakthroughs – so many of them, in fact, that many of us simply got used to a new wonder every week or two.

The last century brought us everything from nuclear fission to heart transplants, corn dogs to microwave ovens. Jet propulsion revolutionized air travel and Mr. Potato Head revolutionized, er, potatoes.

So far, the current century is looking a little lackluster when compared to the weekly wonders we grew to expect in the good old days.

We recently leaped out of the doldrums, though, when researchers from the Harvard Medical School and the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna announced that they’d successfully isolated a gene that caused male fruit flies to fight like girls and female fruit flies to fight like boys.

According to the Reuters news service, a so-called “fruitless” gene in fruit flies can lead to gender-bending aggression traits.

Female fruit flies, researchers determined, normally vent their aggressions by shoving and head-butting a foe’s body, whereas the male of the species utilizes “lunging, boxing and rearing up on their back legs and snapping down their forelegs to flatten an adversary.”

(A similar technique, I should point out, was frequently used by a 280-pound guy known as ‘Dub’ who used to hang out at the old Leaky Tiki tavern in Lake County.)

Needless to say, determining male and female fruit fly-fighting characteristics alone must have taken hundreds of hours of grueling research, and many scientists – weary of watching irritated fruit flies squaring off at each other week after week – would have simply called it a day and published their initial findings to the praise and wonder of the rest of the international scientific community.

Our tireless researchers, however, decided to take one precious step further and began switching the male and female “fruitless” genes, only to discover that the ensuing change could make male fruit flies fight like sissies and turn female fruit flies into serious thugs.

Thanks to these scientific investigators’ selfless dedication, you’ll no longer toss and turn through sleepless nights, wondering just how tough lady fruit flies really are.

Perhaps more importantly, you’re now aware of just what you may be getting into the next time you take on an irate fruit fly.

Forewarned is forearmed, so you’ll be a lot less likely to get seriously head-butted by one of these dainty, winged brawlers the next time you inadvertently disturb one of them while reaching for an overripe apricot.

Of course, this whole fruit fly gene-switching thing will, sooner or later, be picked up on by the defense industry.

I’d venture to guess that biological warfare researchers will soon be gathered in a dim, forgotten corner of the Pentagon, feverishly poring over insect gene data in an attempt to find a genetic weapon that will induce members of al-Qaida to fight like female fruit flies.

And that’s a win-win situation any way you look at it, amigos…

Originally published December 10, 2006