If Only We Had a Brain!

Genetics and Biotechnology

We almost went cross-eyed dissecting fly brains under the microscope, BUT we did figure out the effects of alcohol on fruit fly brains.

By: Amber McQuaid, Amanda Wisner, Erin Somerville, and Kasey Forr

Why we chose Ethyl Alcohol

Though we were testing the flies’ brains through dissection, we noticed that they had more jumpy and erratic behavior than the flies fed regular food. We were interested in finding if the effects of alcohol had the same impact on flies as they did on humans. Initially, we would test either acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). Still, after realizing that it would be difficult to crush the capsules to put into the flies’ food, we decided to switch to ethyl alcohol.

Brain Dissection

After having flies exposed to different alcohol concentrations for an extended period, we dissected their brains and stained them to see the resulting damage. Many mistakes and losing the brain led to a lot of frustration, but in the end, we were able to stain over 15 brains successfully!

Discoveries and Administration of the Alcohol

For our experiment, we wanted to test higher percentages of alcohol on the flies to try and get visible results of brain damage. The problem is that the flies would die quickly in vials with food with anything higher than 7% alcohol concentration. We were lucky enough to be able to dissect the flies before the alcoholic food had killed them. In our experiment, we used 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10 percent alcohol concentration solutions. We made these solutions by using a constant of 50 mL of water and adding the appropriate amounts of ethyl alcohol to each solution. We then put around 10 mL of each solution into vials of fly food to administer the alcohol to the flies. Through this process, we could feed alcohol to the flies successfully.


Trial and Error

During the experiment, there were many times things failed, and we had to learn from our mistakes. We had mass death from not knowing how to make fly food, a fungus issue, and had to learn how to work with extreme concentrations of alcohol. Many trials and errors also came from dissecting; since the brains are so tiny, there was a lot of chance of losing them or ruining them. After weeks of trying, we found a new method to help us successfully keep the brains: putting them onto glass slides, dyeing them, and then sealing the slides with clear nail polish.