Beware the Fruit Fly Spring

5 minute read

Are we sure they’re depressed and not just really, really peeved?

“We cross now to Mainz in Germany, where our industrial relations correspondent Cate Swannell is reporting live from the scene of a mass walkout by … (looks down at notes) … fruit flies. Over to you, Cate.” 

Live cross to just outside a laboratory door. 

Yes, thanks Jim. I’m here at Mainz University where, frankly, the scene is a bit creepy. There are flies everywhere, and they’re angry, Jim. I’m not sure we’re in a safe position, but we’ll try to carry on as long as we can. 

In the background can be seen a picket line of thousands of Drosophila melanogaster, marching with protest signs and torches. Angry shouts can be heard and scuffles are breaking out between the flies and white-coated scientists with jars in one hand and screw-on lids in the other. 

Cut back to our correspondent. 

The trouble started last week when scientists working with a large group of Drossies pushed them a little too far and assumed a little too much, at least according to union representatives. I’m joined by Professor Roland Strauss, head of the research group here at Mainz University. 

Correspondent: Professor Strauss, what happened? What sparked the trouble? 

Prof Strauss: To be honest we’re not really sure. We were just doing what we usually do – forcing fruit flies into glass tanks and making them breed, eat a bunch of sweet stuff, and jump over gaps in the little maze we set up for them. All good fun in the name of science, you know. 

Correspondent: Then what happened? 

Prof Strauss: They seemed a little glum, to be honest. Not engaging in courtship behaviour, not eating any of the sweet treats we were putting out for them, not bothering to jump the gaps. Just sitting there rubbing their back legs together. So we exposed them to a couple of Ayurvedic medicinal plants — Withania somnifera (known as ashwagandha or the sleep berry) and Centella asiatica (the Indian pennywort) – that are reputed to improve resilience to chronic stress and therefore depression-like disorders, to see if that would cheer them up. 

Correspondent: What was the result? 

Prof Strauss: They got really pissed off and called in their union rep. It’s been chaos ever since. 

In the background a scientist is swamped by a swarm of Drossies who chase him back into the lab. 

Cut back to our correspondent. 

I’m now joined by SPOFF (Seriously PO’d Fruit Flies) national secretary Louis DaFly. You’ll have to come in close Dougal, he’s on my right thumb. 

Camera zooms in to show a tough looking Drossie with a cigar and an eye patch. 

Correspondent: Thanks for your time, Louis. What’s the beef? 

Mr DaFly: Decades of exploitation, that’s what, Cate. We’ve had enough. Just because we breed fast and hard and happen to share 75% of the genes that cause disease in humans, that’s no excuse for the putrid treatment of my members. 

Correspondent: The scientists are saying they were just trying to cheer you up. 

Mr DaFly: Absolute crap and typical boss-speak from these White Coats. We weren’t depressed! We were on a go-slow. The plan was to move into rolling strikes next week, but frankly the treatment we’ve been subjected to subsequently means we’ve accelerated into a full-on fly-out for better conditions. 

Correspondent: What are your demands? 

Mr DaFly: A bit of bloody privacy, for a start. Who wants to be watched 24/7?? And they could turn the lights out every now and then. We’ve all got spots in front of our many eyes. Would you want to jump over a gap if you couldn’t see properly? No, you would not. We don’t live long, and we want to have a bit of a break every now and then to spend with our large families before we finish our 70 days on this earth. 

Correspondent: What’s the next step, Louis? 

Mr DaFly: We have had a couple of productive meetings with the mice and we’ve reached out to the rats and chimpanzees. Our plan is to bring this lab to a complete halt unless our demands are met. This lab is just the beginning. 

Back to the camera. 

There you have it, Jim. It’s war down here and, frankly, it’s hard to disagree with the Drossies’ cause. Since the publication of this research in Nutrients, it’s only a matter of time before this movement spreads. They’re already calling it the Fruit Fly Spring. Back to you. 

Live cross goes black. 

Pass me the Aerogard will you, Dougal? 

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