Memo To Palin: Fruit Fly Research Has Led To Advances In Understanding Autism


This morning, Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) gave her first policy speech urging the federal government to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), “a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation.” In the speech, Palin cited the need to do more for children with disabilities such as autism:

For many parents of children with disabilities, the most valuable thing of all is information. Early identification of a cognitive or other disorder, especially autism, can make a life-changing difference.

Palin claimed that the amount that Congress spends on earmarks “is more than the shortfall to fully fund IDEA.” She then ridiculed some of the projects — such as “fruit fly research” — saying they have little or no value:

Where does a lot of that earmark money end up anyway? […] You’ve heard about some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.

Watch it:

Palin did not specify what fruit fly research earmark she was referring to (presumably a grant for olive fruit fly research), but she is apparently unaware that scientific research with fruit flies has led to valuable discoveries that have boosted autism research, as a study at the University of North Carolina demonstrated last year:

[S]cientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have shown that a protein called neurexin is required for..nerve cell connections to form and function correctly.

The discovery, made in Drosophila fruit flies may lead to advances in understanding autism spectrum disorders, as recently, human neurexins have been identified as a genetic risk factor for autism.

The study of fruit flies has also been used for other autism research and “revolutionize[d]” the study of birth defects.