Ten days left until the U.S. presidential election. And, almost every day, I have a reason to get all bent out of shape by the news reports. Today my outrage is directed at something that Gov. Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, said yesterday during a speech about special education. Simply put, she mocked fruit fly research. Did that turn my toenails purple? You betcha!
Here is a summary of that…something. She declared that the money that should be funding IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and special needs programs instead goes to, and I quote, projects having little or nothing to do with the public good — things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not! (You can watch the video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCXqKEs68Xk*)
Okay, let’s set aside the minor (!) detail that Sen. McCain has voted against fully funding IDEA, or any other special education program, for that matter. And we can also close our eyes to the fact that Gov. Palin herself has hardly been a champion for special needs kids and their families (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/us/politics/07needs.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=us).
But claiming that fruit fly research has little or nothing to do with the public good? Fruit fly research is no joke, Gov. Palin. Let’s take a look at it.
Fruit flies are fruitfully used in cancer, cancer prevention and Alzheimer’s research, as well as in countless other fields (nerve injury research, stem cell research…almost-everything research). Just go to “Science Daily” and do a quick search for “fruit flies.” You will be amazed at how useful these tiny bothersome critters are. To science. Serious science.
Okay, but let’s keep our focus on special needs children, since that was the point, I s’pose, of Gov. Palin’s speech.
Fact 1: fruit fly research carried out in 2007 at the University of North Carolina may lead to advances in understanding autism spectrum disorders, as recently, human neurexins have been identified as a genetic risk factor for autism. See: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070905123832.htm
Fact 2: Dartmouth researchers have determined that the fruit fly Drosophila can be used for further study about why more mistakes occur during cell division as eggs become older. In humans, such errors can give rise to Down syndrome, a genetic disorder where people have one extra chromosome. See: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/05/030505084219.htm
Now, Gov. Palin’s stunningly thoughtless remarks probably referred to a $ 742,764 earmark obtained by California Rep. Mike Thompson for olive fruit fly research. Part of that grant, $ 211,509, is going to be spent in Paris, France. This realization does not appease me, for the following reasons.
Fact 3: a. the olive fruit fly has become a huge threat to California’s multi-million dollar olive crop; b. countries like France have been studying and developing ways of using parasites instead of toxic chemicals to control this devastating phenomenon, and c. hence, doesn’t it make sense that the research be carried out at a USDA (=U.S. Department of Agriculture) research facility that just happens to be located in France? Eh.
Fact 4: the “French” fruit fly grant money almost adds up to the sum that the Republican National Convention has recently spent on clothes and makeup for Gov. Palin and her family. Nope, I kid you not.
*P.S. Tinyurls aren’t working today. I apologize for these endless links. I will change them to shorter ones asap.