You have probably heard that Governor Palin, in a recent speech contradicted herself within a span of a couple of sentences. So, she said that “Early identification of a cognitive or other disorder, especially autism, can make a life-changing difference.”, then in the next breath dissed that same research: “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.” You can see that part here:
This is obviously not making Drosophila researchers happy, especially those who actually use this model animal to study the underlying causes of diseases such as autism. And they are firing back – see this response by UNC researchers: In defense of fruit flies and basic medical research:
Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin made reference to fruit fly research in a broad statement about wasteful earmark funding that has “little or nothing to do with the public good.” She specifically mentioned work in Paris, France. (Just Google it.)
MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann reported this, and mentioned, specifically, (Drosophila) fruit fly research at the University of North Carolina (“which is not in Paris,” Olbermann noted) that has led to advanced understanding in autism research. (We think you’ll be able to find this easily, too.)
That work, led by neuroscientist Manzoor Bhat, Ph.D., and autism researcher and clinician Joseph Piven, M.D., director of UNC’s Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Center.
Their work was published in Neuron in September 2007.
Dr. Bhat and Dr. Piven will have more to say tomorrow (Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008).
For now, here’s a passage from a UNC press release:
“Neurons, or nerve cells, communicate with each other through contact points called synapses. When these connections are damaged, communication breaks down, causing the messages that would normally help our feet push our bike pedals or our mind locate our car keys to fall short.
Now scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have shown that a protein called neurexin is required for these nerve cell connections to form and function correctly.
The discovery, made in Drosophila fruit flies may lead to advances in understanding autism spectrum disorders, as recently, human neurexins have been identified as a genetic risk factor for autism.
“This finding now gives us the opportunity to see what job neurexin performs within the cell, so that we can gain a better insight into what can go wrong in the nervous system when neurexin function is lost,” said Dr. Manzoor Bhat, associate professor of cell and molecular physiology in the UNC School of Medicine and senior author of the study.
The study, published online Sept. 6, 2007, in the journal Neuron, is the first to successfully demonstrate in a Drosophila model the consequences that mutating this important protein may have on synapses.
The research was supported in part by grants from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute of Mental Health and funds from the state of North Carolina.”
This study has been highlighted on Keith Olbermann’s show the other day:
More at UNC, a response by a fruitfly researcher, and a criticism of the way Olbermann handled it….
Update: Dr. Manzoor Bhat and Joseph Piven, M.D. have now released the video response – well worth watching:
Update 2: More responses:
Mike the Mad Biologist
Napa Valley Register
Island Of Doubt
The Tree of Life
Greta Christina’s Blog
Life v. 3.0
Flags and Lollipops – Network Edition