9780297645894 / 0297645897

Fly: An Experimental Life


Publisher:Weidenfeld & N., London, Unite



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About the book:

Every school child has dozed over texts describing the life cycle of the humble fruit fly; it's so ubiquitious in experimental biology as to seem hardly worth lingering over. Martin Brookes aims to swat that notion with the wonderfully entertaining Fly: An Experimental Life.

The principles of evolutionary biology can be usefully applied to literary fashions. As soon as a commercially successful adaptation has been established in the bookshop ecology, a plethora of offspring and imitators will rush to fill the niche: until the whole section is crowded out and another adaptation is needed. Such an adaptation is the popular science book focusing on a relatively mundane item. In recent years we've seen winning books on the potato, and codfish, among others--now here's one on fruit flies.

Happily, this book shows there's life yet in this particular niche. Brookes, a biologist of eight years' standing, has spent much of that time studying the fruit fly, an insect "less than half the size of a grape pip", that for reasons of happenstance and accident, as well as simplicity of design and genetics, has featured in more bio-evolutionary research than any other. This book is an attempt to explain where, when and how the humble fruit fly achieved its scientific fame, and what that fame means for that other much-studied creature, man.

Brookes's style, as he saunters through the fly's life cycles, visiting various labs and institutes on the way, is chatty, discursive, humorous, accessible and friendly. He also packs in plenty of fruit fly information. Fly mutants with heads in their stomachs, a fly called Groucho because of its Marx Brother eyebrows, flies on crack cocaine walking backwards, they're all in here. It's a real buzz. --Sean Thomas

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