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Thursday, 14 June 2018

Fruit flies don't procrastinate

Writers procrastinate. When I find myself cleaning the toilets, I know I’m in trouble. Recent procrastination has been more pleasant but equally pernicious. I’ve been reading about fruit flies and sex in the undergrowth. I can’t even say it was in the interests of research, but it might come in useful one day.

Next time you hear a fly buzz, you may decide to pause before swatting. The fruit fly buzzes to mate. It attracts the female and makes her . . . receptive, which is a nice way of putting it.

 As I  read on, I became equally intrigued by the minds of those doing the studying. Do we need to know that the fruit fly indulges in foreplay, licking its mate’s genitalia or that at this very moment, scientists are trying to pinpoint which part of the fly’s brain or ‘reward centres’ are turned on by certain sexual acts? Worse, there are scientists encouraging orgasms in flies. They have created sex clubs for them, where masturbation is encouraged. It all sounds very dry but not presumably for the fly.

It’s a process called optogenetics. This modifies an insect so that specific neurons can be activated using light. Neurons involved in ejaculation can be activated by using red light, which the insect cannot see. Given the choice between a neutral zone and the red light district, it is a no brainer even for a fruit fly. The fear was that once in the red zone, they wouldn’t be able to stop. It didn’t seem to bother flies, however, most staying seven minutes or longer. As one of the scientists said, ‘The flies preferred to self administer and be in the activation zone.’ Who’d a thunk?

Mind you, it’s not all ‘self administering.’  Insects have their darker side, too. I’d never regarded bees as male chauvinists before——insects in general for that matter—not until I read about ‘mating plugs.’ These ensure that after mating, the female is prevented from re-mating; a retrospective chastity belt if you will. Fruit flies, bless them, use toxic seminal fluid guaranteed to put off those who come after. The human male is governed by much the same urge to procreate, but his instinct remains more generous than that of the insect.

Friday, 8 June 2018

I had my eyes on Mouldy Mabel

Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach. I perambulated Abergavenny on mine. It started innocently enough. My wife asked me whether I was hungry. I hadn’t especially thought of it until the question was asked, but with the thought came hunger. My stomach reacts to prompts like that like a small dog eager for scraps. If it had a tail it would wag every time we passed a pie shop.
On this occasion, we were walking past the Angel Bakery. 

The smell was irresistible and my stomach growled. And then it spoke, using my mouth as its own. “If we buy freshly baked bread we need cheese.”
So off we went through some interesting side streets in search of a cheese shop. We could have gone to a supermarket, Tescos or Sainsburys, but we were buying artisan bread, and my stomach was adamant. It had to be artisan cheese.
And then we found it. And what cheeses there were! The vendor welcomed us with a smile. My dog smiled back unnoticed. We talked cheeses, me studying the Welsh Cheese map behind him. 

Occasionally he left us browsing as customers drifted in and out buying mysterious, over-priced condiments, slivers of ham, and very small pots of jam. Eventually we decided, a 100g each of  Caerphilly, Little Hereford, and Rhydydelyn. The price shocked me £13. The dog was ecstatic. My wife less so, but I was already eying up ‘Mouldy Mabel’ and ‘Rachel’.