Sarah Palin disses MY fruit fly

As I’m sure many of you have now heard, Sarah Palin delivered her first official “policy speech” in which she pressed for Congress to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). To enable Congress to fund this without increasing spending, she returned to McCain-Palin’s favorite enemy – the earmark.

And, following recent M-P tradition, she chose to highlight scientific research as the enemy – in particular the evil fruit fly:

Where does a lot of that earmark money end up anyway? […] You’ve heard about some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.

I’ll come back later to the absurdity of someone dissing scientific research while purportedly pushing progress for people with disabilities. But it was amazing how rapidly – and proudly – the Drosophila research community started sending around the video of her speech. One of my colleagues wrote:

The noble fly is honored to be the focus of Palin’s venom.  I expect that Caenorhabditis elegans, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Arabidopsis thaliana are quite upset that they were ignored.

Not so fast. Before the Drosophila community gets too excited, I would like to point out that she was not talking about Drosophila. She was apparently talking about true fruit flies from the family Tephritidae – specifically the olive fruit fly, Bactrocera oleae. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) secured $748,000 to develop methods to eradicate the B. oleae – which has the potential to wreak havoc on the California olive crop. Why France?  Well, some of this money went to a USDA research facility located in France  – which the US government set up in France where B. oleae is already established and can be studied without the risk of escape.

Now it just so happens that my lab studies this fly – not B. oleae, but two of its close relatives B. dorsalis and B. cucurbitae. So all my fine Drosophila friends – YOU are not the target of Sarah Palin’s wrath. I am :-).

And if you really want to piss her off, send a small contribution to help us sequence the Bactrocera oleae genome. Only $50,000 to go….

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