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Food Fit For A Fly

Kevin Gabbard at a stainless steel sink next to a big kettle, plastic buckets in various colors sit nearby on a cart

Kevin Gabbard, Media Specialist in the Biology Department at Indiana University puts together a batch of food for the flies in the Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center.

Everybody Eats. It’s not just a uniting principle for humans, but for every living thing. Even for the lowly fly. This week on Earth Eats, we're focusing on the diet of the fruit fly. 

You know, that annoying pest that shows up in your kitchen in warm weather, seems particularly interested in vinegar and bananas? That’s the one. 

Most of us, when we encounter a fruit fly, are focused on keeping it out of our food. But what if it was your job to feed fruit flies? And how would you even go about doing that? And furthermore, why would you?

These are the questions we’re exploring this week. 

We’re spending time in the kitchen of a science building on the campus of Indiana University, where they prepare food for a tiny organism that supports genetic research around the globe: Drosophila Melanogaster.

I know it might sound strange, for a food show, to have an episode about fruit flies. But bear with me. They do show up in our kitchens, so, that’s food related, and when I found out there was a kitchen, on the campus where I work, that is dedicated to making food for flies, I was intrigued. 

We'll talk with the chef, Kevin Gabbard. His official title is Media Specialist. The fly food he makes is also known as a medium. You can find the recipe here

And we talk with Kevin Cook, Ph.D, Senior Research Scientist in The Biology Department at Indiana University and Co-Director of the Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center

He sheds light on the significance of the genetics research that the lab and stock center support.

Be sure to check out FlyBase, a clearinghouse and expansive resource for research on Drosophila. 

Kevin Cook standing in front of a rack full of trays of labled vials.
Kevin Cook, Ph.D, is a Senior Research Scientist in The Biology Department at Indiana University and Co-Director of the Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center. He is pictured here with some of the specimens from the stock center. 
Kevin Gabbard and Iian Vollmann standing at a steel table with a machine in an industrial kitchen. Iian has a piece of cheesecloth in his hands
Kevin Gabbard (left) and Iain Vollman (right) run the Drosso-Filler Maxx to dispense the fly food into the glass vials. They make food three times a week and produce about 30,000 vials of food each cooking session to maintain more than 70,000 strains of flies in the stock center. (Kayte Young/WFIU)
close up of glass vials in a grided tray, upside down with a beige substance in the bottom
A close-up of the fly food, freshly packed into vials and ready for delivery. (Kayte Young/WFIU)
A woman leaning into a microscope surrounded by scientific equipment and glass vials with tufts of cotton

Scientists at Indiana University use the fly stocks in their research, and fly strains are also shipped to labs all over the world. Pictured is Research Associate Jessica Holsopple (Kayte Young/WFIU) 

a white plastic tray with spikes holding labeled glass vials with tufts of cotton in the top, small flies inside and a beige substance at the bottom
The flies need to be moved onto new food every two weeks. There is a large staff of stockeepers responsible for this ongoing transfer work, called flipping. (Kayte Young/WFIU)
TJ Arnold stands with plastic apron at an industrial sink spraying trays of vials with water. two other staff members are seen in the background
The glass vials where the flies and food are kept get re-used over and over. That means dishwashing--A LOT of dishwashing. T.J. Arnold sprays down a tray of vials in one step of the cleaning process. An industrial grade detergent is used, but never soap. Soap kills fruit flies, so they don't take the chance.

Music on This Episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from the artists at  Universal Production Music.

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