Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Drosophila melanogaster, my cousin

There’s a cute article by James Gorman in today’s New York Times. (I settled on the word “cute” because the accompanying drawing tickles me.)

In “It’s Not Just Apes; Fruit Flies Are Our Cousins, Too,” Gorman ponders the fact that so many people (read: Americans) get bent out of shape at the suggestion that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor. Inspired by a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about fruit flies experiencing sleep disruptions as they age, he considers what else we have in common with these distant cousins. He’s not worried about his kinship with animals and doesn’t understand why others are.

“This is fine with me. I’m delighted to be related to flies, yeast, frogs, chimps and blue-green algae. I find the serenity of algae restful and the ambition of yeast admirable. Frogs are great jumpers. Chimps have hands at the end of their feet, sort of. And fruit flies, well, I never met a fruit fly that I was ashamed to share genes with, and I certainly can’t say that about human beings.”

BTW I have to confess, I only learned how to pronounce “drosophila” a few weeks ago. I'm not even going to attempt "melanogaster."

And while you’re in NYT, take a gander at the collection of letters in response to the Lawrence Krauss August 15 essay “How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate,” (which is -- amazingly -- still available as I compose this post).