Behind the locked doors of the Doe Research Lab is a place that few students get to visit. With over four thousand different variations of fruit flies, student researchers study these insects to better understand the human body.
The average lifespan of a fruit fly is ten days. Ten days is all it takes for a larva to live out its entire existence. As these insects grow and develop, so too do the graduate and postdoc students who study them.
“We don’t study Drosophilia (fruit flies) to study fruit flies. We study Drosophilia to understand how all of Mother Nature works as best as she’ll allow us to do that,” Dylan Farnsworth, one graduate student with the Doe Lab said.
The Doe Lab looks at various genes and phenotypes to apply that information to humans. Fruit flies are easy to genetically manipulate and allow students to get a closer look at the world of genetics, Mubarak Hussain Syed, a Post Doc at the lab said.
“We can mutate any gene, any cell, any time,” Syed said.
Graduate students work at a lab between four to five years to become a postdoc, who also work at a lab from four to five years with hopes of running a lab of their own one day, said Syed. The relationship between the two groups is one of mentor-ship, with lots of guidance on equipment usage and experimentation.
“It’s a lot like being a mechanic in some ways, it’s a lot of tinkering with things,” said Farnsworth.
At the lab, researchers have the ability to add a special gene found in certain jellyfish to make different parts of the flies glow in order to better see them, Graduate Student Mathew Clark said.
Flies are traded between labs like sports cards, Clark said. If a lab publishes a research paper using a distinct type of fruit fly, labs like the Doe Lab can request the flies for experiments of their own. The flies are stored in small vials filled with a cornmeal-like substance that sustains 100-200 bugs.
Syed, and other researchers like him, are dedicated to the lab of which they devote so much of their time to. Syed is a special case, as he will even stay overnight at the lab to finish a project.
“For me it is fun. I never go home, I stay here. Weekends, Thanksgiving, Christmas, I am here. Because I like to do it,” Syed said.
Just like the fruit flies, the student researchers hope to contribute to science and hopefully help humans gain more knowledge on the function of their neurons and brain, said Syed.
“As a scientist, people grow at different times, and it happens in different ways,” said Farnsworth.