Monday, January 25, 2010

Why Does John McCain Hate Fruit Fly Research?

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 7:56 PM

Tedski notes that Sen. John McCain is going after his GOP challenger, J.D. Hayworth, as a big spender. We can expect to see lots of that as they try to out-conservatize one another.

More puzzling is McCain repeated attacks on fruit fly research. Does he not understand why scientists use fruit flies in their research? The issue was first raised by VP nominee Sarah Palin, who famously complained about the research on fruit flies.

Salon noted last October that fruit fly research has proved key to genetic research and could help prevent the insects from devastating California crops:

One could recommend that Palin read Jonathan Weiner's wonderful book, "Time, Love, Memory," about the scientists who pioneered the studies of the insect known as drosophila. Or maybe she should just hop on the Web site of the great San Francisco science museum for kids, the Exploratorium, to read about the fruit flies' starring role in genetics. Either way, she would learn that many of the human genes that have been implicated in birth defects and serious diseases have counterparts in the insects.

To scientists, fruit flies are ideal subjects because they have a short life cycle and breed like, well, flies. In a matter of weeks, biologists can determine how flies with defective genes behave, giving them a good indication of how a gene therapy may be designed. As many scientists have pointed out since Palin heartlessly mocked the insect, fruit fly research has been key in understanding autism, a subject about which Palin perpetually broadcasts her interest, as she has an autistic nephew.

There's another serious side to Palin's swat at fruit fly research. The French study that she says is doing no public good is no doubt a reference to money secured by Mike Thompson, a Democratic congressman in California's Napa Valley, which was highlighted by the Citizens Against Government Waste as one of its top "oinkers" of 2008. The money is being used to fund research into the olive fruit fly.

In April, when Thompson won the dubious achievement, he responded: "The olive fruit fly has infested thousands of California olive groves and is the single largest threat to the U.S. olive and olive oil industries." He explained that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will employ a portion ($211,000) of the $750,000 award for research in France. "This USDA research facility is located in France because Mediterranean countries like France have dealt with the olive fruit fly for decades, while California has only been exposed since the late 1990s," he said.

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