December 7, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Design in Tiny Fruit Flies

Among the smallest of flyers, these amazing insects pack incredible technology into a tiny package.

Stabilizers: All flies (Diptera, “two wings”) have appendages called halteres located where the second pair of wings would be on other insects. These structures are not degenerate wings, though; they have a purpose, acting as stabilizers. Science Daily says they are “essential for flight in all flies” but also function as stabilizers while climbing for some species. The article calls them a “sensory organ,” implying that they do more than vibrate; they provide information to the brain. Perhaps larger flies, because they have more mass, use them the same way when climbing walls as they do when flying, whereas fruit flies hold them out steady when climbing.

The findings suggest these mallet-shaped sensory organs, called halteres, may play multiple roles in how flies behave, providing clues to how brains absorb and use multiple streams of information.

When you think about how small a fruit fly’s brain must be, that’s a very tiny space in which to pack a multiprocessor. The article claims that halteres evolved from flies’ hind wings, but notes that all 200,000 species of flies have them and use them. “All flies, no matter the suborder, needed halteres to fly,” a researcher at Case Western Reserve University found. “Without them, they could at best lift off but quickly lost control.” These gyroscopic sense organs gave the team ideas for robotics. “These biosensors can also be models for humanmade sensors,” assistant professor Jessica Fox said. “They’re solving the same problems humans do but with a smaller set of neurons. Sensors like the ones that flies have could enable flying machines to land more smoothly, or help them climb walls.”

Climbing windpipes: The cells that form a fruit fly’s windpipe need to “climb” into position, another Science Daily article says. There’s a “master regulator” gene that creates a protein named Mipp1 that “orchestrates” the positioning of cells in the breathing organ, scientists at Johns Hopkins found. Who would have thought that the development of a microscopic tube in a fly’s windpipe is like a symphonic performance? The resulting tissue forms an “intricate network,” the article says.

Fly longevity: Would you have imagined that research on fruit flies could improve the quality and length of human life? It’s true. The Buck Institute for Research on Aging is learning about human aging by studying fruit flies, according to another article on Science Daily.

Dietary restriction enhances the expression of the circadian clock genes in the peripheral tissue of fruit flies, according to research from the Kapahi lab at the Buck Institute. Publishing in Cell Metabolism, the researchers show that dietary restriction, induced by reducing protein in the diet, increased the amplitude of circadian clocks and enhanced the cycles of fat breakdown and fat synthesis. This improvement in fat metabolism may be a key mechanism in explaining why dietary restriction extends lifespan in several species, including the flies in this study.

The research also presents a tantalizing possibility for humans eager to take a drug that would allow them to reap the health benefits of dietary restriction without going on an extreme diet. When scientists genetically altered the flies to boost clock function the animals lived longer, even when they ate whatever they wanted to. On the other hand, disrupting the clocks, either genetically or by keeping the flies under constant light, made the animals irresponsive to the beneficial effects of dietary restriction.

Something amazing about these tiny flyers is that their biological clocks “maintain a remarkable robustness as they age,” the article says. “It is exciting to contemplate how this mechanism might be exploited for human health.

The large insects, like dragonflies and grasshoppers, are remarkable enough for their exquisite designs, but tiny fruit flies pack much of the same technology in a fraction of the space. A brain, a digestive system, a respiratory system, muscles, biological clocks, sensory organs, fantastic eyes, super-sensitive olfactory organs, sex organs, and flight hardware and software are just some of the high-tech equipment their Creator packed into these diminutive creatures. Moreover, the design extends all the way down to individual cells, where the engineering is even more astonishing. Many creationists rightly glorify God for the big giraffes, dinosaurs and elephants He made, but we shouldn’t ignore the little guys. There’s perhaps even more creative genius displayed in the ability to microminiaturize systems so good that our top scientists study ways to imitate them.



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  • John C says:

    Canards (forward mounted control surfaces) have been used on aircraft since the Wright Brothers. They used them because they believed a rear-mounted stabilizer would be dangerous, as that was the style of glider Otto Lillienthal was killed in. According to Wikipedia, they didn’t believe stability and control were possible in a single unit, so they opted for control. Checking the Wiki article, you’ll see several modern applications of the canard, most prevalent in modern fighter aircraft.

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