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NC State

Getting fruit flies drunk might sound silly, but it's an important part of Dr. Trudy Mackay's research.

Enter Mackay's lab at NC State University, and you'll find multiple columns stretching from floor to ceiling with alcohol vapor running through them. If you look real close, you'll see the fruit flies in these "inebriometers" partying hard — getting hyperactive, falling all over the place, and then eventually just passing out drunk.

The thing is, that's exactly how a human would react to alcohol. So does this make fruit flies more human? Obviously not. But it does illustrate one of the many traits and characteristics that we have in common with the humble (and occasionally tipsy) fruit fly.


When Mackay read a study in 2000 that said 70-75% of human genes have equivalents in the fruit fly, she knew there was more to be learned about humans.

In fact, the research she gathers from fruit flies can usually translate to humans. And in some cases, what'll make a fruit fly sick will make a human sick as well — meaning we can potentially learn a lot about serious diseases from observing fruit flies.

Dr. Trudy Mackay. All screenshots via NC State/YouTube.

In the case of the alcohol sensitivity, Mackay and her team identified a gene in the flies called "malic enzyme" that was strongly affected by the alcohol. Then when they surveyed humans on their drinking habits, they found that those who consume alcohol had similar results in the same corresponding gene. It's a huge step in understanding how alcohol affects us, but what's key is finding other variants like malic enzyme and observing how they interact with each other.

"This is where we’re going in the future," adds Mackay. "What we would like to know is how the variants combine together to affect risk."

So why test fruit flies in the lab and not, you know, a lab rat?

"They're actually an odd but very good model of human complex traits," Mackay says. "In fact, many of the pathways that we know are involved in cancer, heart disease, other human complex diseases actually have names from flies — where they were first discovered."

Mackay also notes that there are a couple of advantages to using the flies instead of the more common lab mammals. "One is their very short lifespan," she says. Fruit flies don't live all that long, so it's easier to see how the traits they observe are passed from one generation to the next. It also makes it easier to study just that — lifespan.

"The other is that we have community resources that have been built up over many, many decades," adds Mackay. "A whole host of technological advances that we can use to study traits that are relevant to human health."

In fact, one of the most important resources around is one that she created. The Drosophila Genetic Reference Panel (DGRP), a collection of 200 different genetic fruit fly lines, allows other scientists to conduct their own research and compare their trait results with the catalog Mackay has provided. That helped earn Mackay the esteemed Wolf Prize in Agriculture, an award that's known to be an indicator of Nobel Prize winners.

There's still a lot of work left to be done, but that only pushes Mackay even more.

Yes, it's pretty awesome that we have a lot in common with fruit flies. But in the grand scheme of things, it's about so much more than that. "What I think is most important are the general principles of complex trait inheritance that we’ve discovered that I very much think is applied to the same general principles in humans," Mackay notes.

That's why Mackay continues to apply her research to understanding a number of different causes — whether it's glaucoma, aggression, or stress resistance in humans. At the end of the day, it's all about gathering as much information as possible to put the pieces together.

"You can think of it as, the studies we've done up to now is giving us a parts list," Mackay says. "And what we need to do is figure out how those parts go together."

It's a long (and unpredictable) road ahead, but it's one that Mackay would gladly go down anytime. When asked about what inspires her to keep pushing the field forward, Mackay didn't even hesitate.

"The same as any scientist," she says. "Curiosity about the natural world."

Feeling curious yourself? Check out the video below to learn more about Dr. Trudy Mackay's groundbreaking work:

All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

As the saying goes, "You have to kiss a few frogs..."

Dating has certainly evolved over the years—we’ve gone from courtship being purely a financial arrangement (not that this trend has ever truly died) to knights jousting for a lady’s favor, to casual hookups … and now, romance is primarily found through an app more than anything else.

Technology used for meeting that special someone has become so advanced that you can base your search entirely upon specific interests. Like … oddly specific interests. Think a fellow cat person would be the purrfect match? There’s an app for that. Wish to “love long and prosper” with a fellow Trekkie? There’s an app for that too.

No matter the changes, one thing remains the same—dating is awkward. It’s got all the unspoken formalities of a job interview, disguised as innocent fun. The balance between playing it too cool and too eager is hard to find even for the smoothest among us, and usually results in total embarrassment. Even if we aren’t the ones committing those embarrassing acts ourselves, we are often the reluctant witness to them.

Terrible dates might not always be fun in the moment, but they can be just as important as the good ones. They can teach us a lot about ourselves and what qualities we want in a partner. And at the very least, they can teach us to embrace social clumsiness with a sense of humor.

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share a “funny or embarrassing first date story” for his ever popular #Hashtags segment. The best part—some of these awful first dates ended in marriage. There’s hope for us all.

Below, find 15 stories that are truly the the best of the worst. How do some of your first dates compare?

1. "After a nice dinner, she invited me to her house. On the way up, inside the elevator, I decided to push the button to stop between floors and give her a kiss... She had a phobia of closed spaces and she smacked my face as a reflex, two punches after we were kissing and laughing.” – @PanqueAlgarvio

2. “His jeans were so tight he couldn’t sit down. Stood at a bar stool the whole time.” – @onlyintheozarks

3. “Waiting 4 my date when an older couple asked me for a ride. my date came up and said sure! We drove them home & they asked us to come in. Date said “sure”. I pulled him back & asked why he wanted to hang w/strangers. He said ‘sh@t! YOU DON'T KNOW THEM!?’ We bolted!” – @natashaham75

facebook dating

Talk about a fashion faux pas.

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4. “Before the date, we had been chatting about books we liked and I talked about a great book I just read. We went on the date. I loaned her the book. She ghosted me.” – @thenextbarstool

5. “The worst first date I ever had was when my date locked his keys in the car and I had a curfew so he had to break his car window out to get me home on time. Didn’t think I’d ever see him again but we wound up married.” – @csleblan

6. “First date movie ‘Basic Instinct’ not realizing how suggestive it was. We just thought it was a mystery thriller! We left the movie discussing how each character could have actually murdered someone. We're married now.” – @Southrnbell_Amy

black people meet

There are worse first date movies tbh.

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7. “First date with my ex husband was a double date with his parents. The preview for ‘Speed Racer’ came on, and she leaned over me to say to her son, ‘You know what your dad's nickname in the bedroom is?’" – @theostoria

8. “A friend asked me on a double date as a blind date with his date's friend. I went to the bathroom and came back just in time to hear my date say to her friend, ‘why do I get the ugly one?’ I said good night to all three and headed home, leaving her w/the bill.” – @StevenTrustum

9. “He loved cheese. I was subjected to a 2 hour conversation/lecture about cheese, and why cottage cheese is not cheese!” – @Optimist_Eeyore

bumble

I'd like to see this two-hour cheese lecture.

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10. “He took me to an Asian fish market. We walked around looking at live & dead fish for a while. I don’t like seeing dead animals & I don’t eat seafood. Then we sat on a curb & he pulled out a ziplock bag of pineapple for us to share. I don’t like pineapple.” – @markayhali

11. “My cousin set up a first date for me with a family friend. During a break from dinner, Mr. Man follows me into the ladies’ room, comes up close and says in a low voice, ‘I shave my butt.’ Can’t remember what I said in response but the evening ended abruptly.” – @carli_zarzana

12. “I once took out my high school crush to a sports bar and ordered the spiciest wings there in an attempt to impress her. Not only was she not impressed. The next morning I woke up with heartburn.” –@Dmonster38

tindr conversation starters

Talk about a hot date.

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13. “My date showed up with his bestie and girlfriend, and they talked through dinner about people I don’t know. Walking to the car, he gave me a wedgie because he thought he hadn’t been paying enough attention to me.” – @surrealDazey


14. “I was taking my date home and was pulled over by the police for speeding. When the cop came to my car, she jumped out and told him she had to get home. She walked home and I never heard from her again. I'm not sure who's #WorstFirstDate it was mine or hers!” – @eastriverbear

15. “After an evening of dancing with a first date, leaving the dance hall, I had to take a quick pee break. Rushing out to the parking lot, I see a lady, I grab her and swoop her around, and plant a big wet kiss on the lips. She was another guy's wife. Oops!” – @seadogskamore

date you

Only Gomez could have gotten away with it.

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