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Exhibition examines amazing genetic parallels between fruit flies and humans


To enhance public understanding of genetic research, the Hong Kong Science Museum will stage a new thematic display, Fruit Fly - Drosophila, at its Science News Corner from June 11 to September.

The fruit fly -- whose species name is drosophila, a Greek word meaning dew-lover -- is commonly found in local fruit markets.

Despite being less than 3 millimetres long, the fruit fly possesses organs and structures that are comparable to those of human beings, including eyes and a sophisticated brain. Significantly, since over 60% of human disease genes can be found in the fruit fly genome, and since sick flies and sick people display similar symptoms, scientists use the fruit fly in the study of human diseases.

Scientists have also found that fruit fly and human behaviour is similar in certain ways. Like us, fruit flies love to move around during the day and rest at night, and they nap during the day too. Fruit flies carrying certain gene mutations can be either super-sensitive or insensitive to alcohol. These interesting discoveries have not only deepened our understanding of fruit fly behaviour but helped us to identify the genes that are related to insomnia, alcoholism and other human afflictions.

Fruit flies can be cultured in large quantities in the laboratory. It takes only 10 days for an egg to develop into an adult fly. Thousands of fly mutants are bred; apart from white-eyed flies, there are also "yellow" flies, "ebony" flies and "curly" flies with their wings curled up.

The entire genome of the fruit fly was determined in 2000 and the strategy used was later applied to the Human Genome Project, which enabled the completion of the first draft of the Human Genome in 2001.

In Hong Kong, the Laboratory of Drosophila Research was established in 2002 by the Department of Biochemistry of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, with the aim of applying fruit fly research to the study of human genetic diseases. Currently, the laboratory is conducting major research into human neurodegenerative diseases, including Huntington's, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Fruit Fly - Drosophila is presented with the support of the Biochemistry Department of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, which provided Fruit Fly Laboratory, one of the two videos that accompany the exhibition. The other video, Insect-borne Diseases Control, was provided by the National Geographic Channel. Both videos will be screened at the Science Window of Science News Corner. Moreover, the Science Web will provide browsers with games and a list of relevant websites to enhance their knowledge of the topics being treated.

The Hong Kong Science Museum is located at 2 Science Museum Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East. It is open from 1 pm to 9 pm from Monday to Wednesday and on Fridays, and from 10am to 9pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $25 with half-price concession applicable to full-time students, people with disabilities and seniors aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays. For enquiries, please call 2732 3232 or visit the Science Museum's website at

End/Tuesday, June 3, 2003

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