The Red Eye: A Case of Too Many Replicates

Posted: 06 08, 2015


One afternoon during my international stint in Cambridge, I took a break from work to buy coffee from the local baker a block away from the Department of Genetics. He greeted me and chatted rapidly as he prepared my favorite drink. As he handed me my mocha, he did a double take.

What happened to your eye?”
“Oh, I don’t know, it’s been red for a few days…I can’t figure out what’s causing it.”
“It looks quite irritated.”
“I think it will be fine. I probably just need a good night’s rest.”
“Been working a lot in lab?”
“Yeah, haha. Thanks for the coffee.”

I sat at the microscope late in the evening. An older scientist nearby looked up from his scope and murmured to his colleague, “I think I just swallowed one of my flies.” They chuckled.

Ten minutes later, they turned off their carbon dioxide taps and left. I continued to work in the empty room to the sound of the gurgling bubbles from my tap, used for sedating fruit flies.

Soon, I would be crossing the virgin females with the appropriate males for my experiment. I took two mature virgin flies from a vial and put them together in a fresh one. After about five minutes, the male began to follow the female. She would move half a centimeter, and he would follow until they both had made their way once around the perimeter of the cornmeal media. The male lifted one wing, then both, and then began spinning around the female, as if to make sure she knew he was in the vicinity. He then came up behind her and spread her wings in typical Drosophila fashion, but she scurried away again. He continued to follow.

Adjusting the knobs for better focus, I peered through my microscope onto the anaesthetizing pad. The pile of fruit flies looked like a bunch of dogs that had rolled over, playing dead with unblinking red eyes. I took my thin paintbrush and moved the flies around, sorting females from the males by looking at their size and the patterns on their abdomens. Then I dumped the flies RedEye with flies 20150602I didn’t need into a jar of ethanol. They made a valiant attempt to swim around before succumbing to the fumes and sinking onto a large pile of carcasses. I checked back on the pair of flies, who were now mating nonchalantly.

I unplugged the next vial in my tray to dump the flies onto the anaesthetizing pad. One rolled off and recovered, flying off and disappearing. Then I heard a faint buzzing by my ear. My vision blurred, making it difficult to continue. I set down a vial after brushing some plump newly emerged females into it and took a break to scratch the itch by my eye.

As I rubbed near my tear duct, I suddenly felt something lodged inside. I managed to tease the object out and brought my finger in front of my face to inspect it. Oh no…I had extracted something small, black, and pulpy. Tentatively, I brought my finger under the dissecting scope, bringing the black mass into focus.

First, I saw my own fingerprints, and then I cautiously moved toward the mysterious object. I looked away from the scope and took a deep breath before looking back again. On the black mass on the tip of my index finger, I recognized the remnants of a small, red eye.


Written by: Suzan Ok

Illustrated by: Allie Mills

Peer edited and reviewed by John Casachahua & Deirdre Sackett

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This article was co-published on the SWAC Blog, The Pipettepen.

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