Flying to Brazil

Even drosophilists who spend most of their time in fly rooms are aware of this: The Football World Cup starts in less then a month. 

This means: live streaming games in the lab, going to pubs watch games after work, and … making bets and predictions!

I discovered a few weeks ago, via Twitter, this very cool tournament prediction contest—with a science twist, called SciTourney (created by Intergrated DNA technologies).

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Each of the 32 countries had been attributed a Drosophila gene name. And fly people know how to be creative when it comes to gene names ! For example, France is “Burgundy“, Australia is “Crocodile” and Japan is “Sumo“. It all makes perfect sense, right ?  Click here to see the full list! 

The ultimate question is to know which Drosophila gene will be dominant in Brazil ! (My prediction ? Toucan)

Anyone can participate to the tournament. It’s free, fun, and sooo nerdy ! (And there are a few prizes) The more, the merrier, right ? Join by clicking here.

It’s not everyday that football and flies come together. 

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Can you … Count flies with your iPhone ?

… The answer is YES !

I got this question from a reader of this blog a few month ago on a previous post. I thought I would share the answer I had given him over here as well. Just in case a poor student, somewhere, spends time counting manually and googles something like “isn’t there a better way to do this ?” …

If you recall, I wrote about this app called Fast Counter, developed by Shazino, and available on the App Store. It does a very decent job counting bacteria on petri dishes, as long as there are not too small and dense.

For a drosophilist, the connection from counting colonies on a plate to counting flies on a pad is not too difficult to make. So I tried it by myself (because, really this was a high priority ;)) and it worked very well.

Of course, flies should not be too dense, and not sticking to each other. By setting the detection threshold in the app, you will actually get an extremely decent accurate number.

Here is an example of the read-out you get:

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Pretty good stuff, huh ?

Maximal number of flies you can count would be around 200-300, accuracy of course is better if you put less.

Have you eve tried it ? If so, what are your impressions ?

 

 

 

Ode to the Fruit Fly, by Curt Stern.

This week I was browsing trough this new book the Drosophila world is happy to place on the lab shelf, next the the red book*, blue book**, and fly pushing***. It’s the Atlas of Drosophila Morphology, written by Sylwester Chyb and Nicolas Gompel. It’s absolutely beautiful, and will be helpful to all fly pushers.(here is a  professional review)

At the beginning, there is this citation of Curt Stern I just love. I think this is a beautiful description of how every true fly pushers feels when looking at flies under the binocular microscope.

“For more than 25 years I have looked at the little fruit fly Drosophila and each time I find fresh delight. When I see Drosophila under moderate magnification of a binocular microscope I marvel at the clearcut form of the head with giant red eyes, the antennae, and elaborate mouth parts; at the arch of the sturdy thorax bearing a pair of beautifully iridescent, transparent wings and three pairs of legs; at the design of the simple abdomen composed of a series of ringlike segments. A shining, waxy armor of chitin entirely covers the body of the insect. In some regions this armor is bare, but in others regions there arise short or long outgrowths – the bristles – strong and wide at the base and gently tapering off to a fine point. Narrow grooves, as in fluted columns with a slightly baroque twist, extend along their lengths.” -Curt Stern, 1954. Two or three bistles, American Scientist, 42, p. 213.

Don’t you feel exactly the same way when looking at your flies ?

* The Genome of Drosophila melanogaster, by Dan L. Lindsley and Georgianna G. Zimm

** Drosophila: A Laboratory Handbook, by Michael Ashburner , Kent Golic and R. Scott Hawley

*** Fly Pushing, by R. J. Greenspan

The iLab – A new Drosophila app !

Hey guys,

At first, I want to apologize for the long absence. I’ve been busy and lazy, the worst combination of all. But I had to share this little discovery I made a few weeks ago, a new app for Drosophilists ! (drum rolls …..)

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It is made by Genesee Sceintific, the FlyStuff.com division in particular. Weirdly, when it comes to the fly room, I’m a bit old-fashioned. I like scribbling crosses on pieces of papers, looking phenotypes up in these good old heavy fly books.

Nevertheless, this app has a undeniable advantage. I basically consist of pictures, description of the most current mutants and species. Comes in handy if you quickly need to check up what a Bar eye or a Curly wing looks like. (Ok, nobody would look up a curly wing) There are also quick links to FlyBase.

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Now, the best at last … There is little nerdy addition: A virtual fly pad. You can train your fly sorting skills, and even enter the competition with other geeks drosophilists by sharing your scores online. Ok, past the few minutes of excitement, it gets a bit boring, and has nothing to do with the real-life fly pad experience.

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An other excellent point is that the app is free, and soon available for the android users too. So guys, go to the App Store and download it, it’s definitely worth it !

Trough a child’s eye

Remember your science course in high school ? The first time you saw things trough a microscope ? I remember that we at some point watched cells of an onion’s skin, or microscopic animals in water from a pond. I loved looking at these things you never would have suspected to be there, so organized and beautiful that it then seemed evident.

Generally, we next had to draw the things we saw, which was the annoying part of the process. Couldn’t we just keep watching ?

Well, today I looked for half an hour at some cells I had prepared from Drosophila embryos.  And instead of drawing, I made a picture with my iPhone trough the objective. (Take that, old biology teachers 😉) I truly felt like a child looking at these things as if they were brand new and fabulous.

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And yes, I know it looks like nothing, or even a bit gross and crappy. They will probably die in a few days too, but still. They were cells, and some of them were contracting, and moving.

I just felt so nice to still have these moments of awe and wonder, I truly hope they never go away. Despite the fact that I get used to do science everyday, hear people “selling their story”, “sell there work”, “sell themselves”, and slowly get sucked in the “science business”; it is good to have a reminder of why you are really doing this for.

It’s because it can be just incredibly cool and thrilling. Cf. a previous post: The thrill, aka the reason why we do science.

And you, could you give up your bench work ?

There are so many different kinds of scientists out there. And lately, I’ve been talking to post-docs. The kind of post-docs stuck at the bottleneck of the academic world. They are good scientists, enjoy doing science, and have been doing it very well for quite some time already. But they would not like to become PI’s.

Why ?

They like the work in the wet lab, at the bench. Doing experiments, smelling, tasting ?, troubleshooting, optimizing, supervising, etc …Occasionally they write grants or teach, but most of the time they work in the lab like us, PhD students.  They do not want to give that up, but there is very little space for these experienced and qualified people in academia. At some point, they know they have to get their own group or get “a real job”. (I don’t like how that sounds either, but that’s what they said.)

I’m always a bit surprised to hear people who like so much working at the bench. For me, working on the bench compares to driving a car. It is absolutely necessary, and I have no problem doing it, but I don’t love it. If I had to, I could give it up.

I like reading literature, doing computer work (getting started in bioinformatics), doodling stuff, listening to podcasts, writing, tweeting, etc … I do not necessarily need to work with smelly bacteria, under noisy hoods, sweating under plastic gloves, or having crappy 12-hour time points. (OK, exaggerating a bit, when things work, I really like it of course)

One big exception tough, I would not like to give up my flies.  I like the fly work to much I guess. There, you got me.

So, I’m asking you readers ? Could you give up working on the bench ? 

PI Quotes 7 – “Drosophila, these are the kind of things you fall in love with …”

This is good stuff. Since a few weeks, I am the supervisor of an undergrad. When she came to the lab; my supervisor introduced her to our work, and told her: “Drosophila …, these are the kind of things you fall in love with …” with this semi-serious/semi amused look.

I found it terribly funny and terribly true. I know quite a few people who are in love with their flies. I am in love with them also. And I have pictures of them hanging over my bench.

The most recent one if have it here :

It can be found here, and is designed by the fly jedi and brilliant scientist Pavel (Tomancak), and made by his colleague Radek . (Both can be congratulated for the beautiful picture on twitter, btw)

In the book “Fly pushing: the theory and practice of Drosophila”, by Ralph Greenspan, it is written that you cannot decently work with an animal model without connecting with it in some way. You have to love your model. And sure enough, after a few weeks, I can see that my student is totally falling for them also 🙂 They must have some kind of super-power.