Your genes, sleep, fruit flies, mice, and Palin

Despite the fact that she is a whiny, genuinely stupid quitter, Sarah Palin has been popping up all over the place lately. Most recently she has been spouting off some garbage that Obama wants to set up a “death panel” in the health care bill. In truth, the bill calls for discussing one’s living will (and related concerns) with a doctor, should one choose to do that. This serves to better protect the interests of the patient. Such a measure could have avoided that whole Terri Schiavo fiasco. But, again, Palin is genuinely stupid. She never knows what’s going on. She makes this clear – literally – every single time she publicly speaks. She was especially clear when she said some remarkably stupid things about fruit fly research during the campaign season. I mention all this because of some recent research which relied on fruit flies*, and which can have a direct impact on the health of people.

Scientists have discovered the first gene involved in regulating the optimal length of human sleep, offering a window into a key aspect of slumber, an enigmatic phenomenon that is critical to human physical and mental health.

The article is well worth the read, and will probably give a fuller picture than I’m going to give. It’s all about a gene which has some seemingly minor variations, yet these variations (alleles) can drastically affect the health of the carrier.

The researchers found that mutated versions of the gene can affect the time some people go to bed, wake up, and how well they physically, emotionally, and mentally perform throughout the day. For instance, most people need roughly 8 hours of sleep a night, but one gene variant allows some to get back on 6 hours while not experiencing adverse consequences to their health.

And of course, this research was possible due to the contributions of various mice and fruit flies. When researchers would find a particular variant of this gene, they would ‘tinker’ with the same gene in these test subjects and measure the effects. One finding was that genetically engineered mice would compensate far less for sleep deprivation than would the control mice.

It isn’t clear yet exactly what it is about this gene (DEC2) which triggers the change in sleep need, but it may be that it makes protein transcription weaker, but other explanations are possible until more research is done.

*What genetic research doesn’t rely on fruit flies these days?

Palin and Science

Sarah Palin is spouting off again on science. She still has no idea what she’s talking about.

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.

Here are some links from the first search page on ScienceDaily.com. Search term “fruit flies”.

In Lean Times, Flies Can’t Survive Without Their Sense Of Smell
For Best Pest Detection, Suit The Attractant To The Fruit Fly
Bar Flies: Fruit Flies Searching For Shut Eye: Possible ‘Sleep Gene’ Identified
The Good And The Bad Of A Potential Alzheimer’s Target
Fruit Flies Learn and Remember Better When Lacking One Receptor
Human Aging Gene Found In Flies
Like Sweets? You’re More Like A Fruit Fly Than You Think
One Missing Gene Leads To Fruitless Mating Rituals

Fruit fly - Science Daily

There are another 45 pages of results.

Update: I just found a little more info on this earmark. Numbers range from $211,000 to $826,000 (the reason for the discrepancy is unclear). This link gives the upper range. The point of the research seems to specifically rely upon saving California’s olive groves – not that Sarah Palin had any idea, nor that it would have mattered if this was even some of the research into fruit flies that goes to understanding autism.