Fruit Flies Fall Into Coma to Survive Three Day Drowning

How much is there to learn about the behavior of a fruit fly? Fruit flies have been used in basic research for more than 100 years. Among the more common reasons for studying a fly including small size, homologous disease genes, and genetic tractability, what we are most interested in their ability to withstand stressful conditions significantly better than a mammal. A key feature of fly survival is their ability to survive a slew of environmental conditions from freezing rain to extensive droughts that occur in the fly’s natural environment. In humans, short periods of anoxic stress or oxygen deprivation whether caused by stroke or cardiac failure can result in significant brain damage. Flies have evolved mechanisms to protect themselves against anoxic stress. By studying mechanisms that flies use to protect themselves against anoxic stress, we may be able to apply those findings to develop therapies that mitigate the damages from lack of oxygen in humans.

A special technique flies use to survive these conditions involves slowing of their metabolism, which causes the fly to enter into a reversible, neuroprotective coma. Although this coma-state has been studied previously, the limits of insect drowning while examining age, environmental temperature, and drowning duration have now been cohesively linked in a recent paper we published in Nature Scientific Reports. Additionally, an important aspect of our study was examining drowning as a method of anoxic, or zero oxygen, exposure rather than anoxic gas exposure. Anoxic gas exposure is less representative of the type of “zero oxygen” environment flies are naturally exposed to. It is possible that the mechanisms a fly uses to survive drowning are slightly different than mechanisms to survive gas anoxia.

When a fruit fly drowns in a puddle, it can survive for 12 hours and fly away. The —> Read More