Fruit Flies: A Model Organism and Pest all-in-1!

Maybe you left some of the holiday food out for longer than it should have, or maybe you got gifted a fruit basket and you’re starting to notice some little flies hanging around… Though they may be annoying, they are just fruit flies, also known as Drosophila melanogaster, or just “Drosophila” for short. The fruit fly, when not feasting on your leftovers, is actually a pretty common and versatile model organism in research experiments!

Where do fruit flies come from?

Fruit flies tend to show up out of nowhere-or so it seems. They are so small that it is easy for them to sneak into your home through eggs laid on fruit at the grocery store, or even through cracks in windows or doors. Once you have a fruit fly infestation, they’ll probably lay their eggs in other locations like drains and hidden corners.

Image: the common fruit fly

What do we use them for in science? 

In science, Drosophila are used as model organisms to study a variety of things like genetics, aging, development, and behavioral studies. Most common of these though is their use in genetics and developmental biology. The fruit fly is a great model organism because it is inexpensive, they reproduce rapidly, and they are fairly easy to take care of. They exhibit a life cycle of about 10 days from fertilization to adult fly, are stable at room temperature and don’t require any special incubation settings, making them great to use in classroom and laboratory experiments. 

You may even recall learning about the fruit fly during genetics lessons involving the punnett square. Gregor Mendell, a famous geneticist, used fruit flies to model genetic inheritance and establish that genes are in chromosomes. These little flies even helped scientist Thomas Hunt Morgan win a Nobel Prize in 1933! In short, Morgan used Drosophila to build upon Mendell’s theories to model chromosomal genetic inheritance. Since then, Drosophila have helped other scientists perform Nobel-Prize-worthy research (Read more here!).


Image: Example of a punnett square showing offspring patterns for cross breeding red-eyed and white-eyes fruit flies. Credit:

How do I get rid of unwanted fruit flies?

So if you’re not planning any experiments and are being pestered by fruit flies, luckily you can get rid of them relatively easily using household remedies. A good starting point is to wipe down everything and throw out any food that might be near-spoiling. After that, you could try filling a small container with apple cider vinegar, covering the top with plastic wrap and poking a few holes in the top so the flies enter and get trapped! You could try this with other liquids like juice, or adding a little bit of soap to the vinegar or whatever liquid you choose. Just keep in mind that they like rotting fruit, so they’ll be drawn to things that emulate that. 

If you are interested in trying out an experiment using Drosophila, check out our kit #337: Drosophila Genotyping Using PCR!

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