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Biology students learn about genetics through fruit fly project

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 12:16 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
McKeesport Area High School biology students Nayelle Williams and Dante Vaniel examine a vial of fruit flies in class on Friday. They and their classmates will breed several generations of flies as part of a lab experiment demonstrating principles of Mendelian genetics.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
McKeesport Area High School science teacher Marla Hayes holds up two containers of genetically unique fruit flies as her students prepare to conduct an experiment examining how dominant and recessive genes affect development over generations.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
McKeesport Area High School students are breeding the fruit flies in these vials as part of a Consortium for Public Education-sponsored lab project designed to demonstrate the principles of Mendelian genetics.

Fruit flies are ideal subjects of study for students learning the fundamentals of genetics because they have eight chromosomes — compared to humans, who have 46 — and breed quickly.

Biology students at McKeesport Area High School on Friday began a month-long lab project that will involve breeding fruit flies and tracking physical changes in the insects over several generations.

Students will cross-breed genetically unique flies to study how dominant and recessive genetic traits affect eye color and wing size.

The lab, funded with a grant from the Consortium for Public Education, will be conducted by all biology students at the school.

Teacher Marla Hayes told a class of honors biology students on Friday to be careful when they uncap the vials containing the tiny winged creatures because they would fly away.

“We don't want that to happen,” she said.

To lessen the chance of escape, she told students they would chill the flies in advance to anesthetize them but warned the dulling effect of refrigeration would not last long.

Most students seemed excited about the lab, though some had reservations.

“These things can fly,” said sophomore Dominique Clark. “I'm just scared they're going to jump on me.”

Bill Hazy, a student teacher from the University of Pittsburgh working with Hayes, said it's been comical hearing students react to the experiment, noting it was unique to see this level of experimentation carried out at the high school level.

“I never did anything like this when I was in high school or college” he said.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.