Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

How the Fly Flies

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

How the Fly Flies

Article excerpt

In order to fly efficiently, flies have to flap their small wings very fast. This causes the familiar buzzing and humming of the small beasts. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster moves its wings at a frequency of 200 hertz--that means its flight muscles contract and relax 200 times per second. "In contrast, a hundred meters sprinter who moves his legs only a few times per second moves like a snail," said Frank Schnorrer, one of the authors of a recent study published in Nature. How can the fruit fly flap its wings at such a high frequency?

Muscles control all body movements, including the wing oscillations. However, flight muscles are unique. Their contractions are not only regulated by nerve impulses as usual, but also additionally triggered by tension. Every fly has two categories of flight muscles that enable the wing oscillations: One type moves the wings down and, at the same time, stretches the other type, which induces its contraction. The wings are pulled up again and stable wing oscillations begin.

By means of targeted gene silencing in the fruit fly, scientists in the research group Muscle Dynamics at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry have now identified the switch essential for the formation of flight muscles: Spalt. …

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