The buzz on drunken fruit flies
by Andrew Shilling
Dec 04, 2013 | 705 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Wai Lam with her winning project and faculty mentor Dr. Preethi Radhakrishnan.
Wai Lam with her winning project and faculty mentor Dr. Preethi Radhakrishnan.
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Ever wonder how alcohol has been affecting your dating life?

Well, a LaGuardia Community College student took top honors last week at a national science poster presentation competition for her research into this very phenomenon with a cast of drunken fruit flies.

Wai “Kat” Lam, a 20-year-old Chinese immigrant and honors student at the school, beat out dozens of other honors students from a number of other community colleges, four-year colleges and research institutions at the National Collegiate Honors Council’s (NCHC) Best Student Poster Presentation competition for her research into alcohol’s effect on mating and courtship.

Her fruit flies underwent a series of experiments to look at the relation between food and alcohol consumption, how alcohol affects courtship behavior and mating along with the number of offspring’s the intoxicated insects could typically produce.

“The first discovery was that fruit flies have an innate preference for alcohol,” she noted.

Following her research, Lam found that inebriated male fruit flies exhibited more courtship behavior, including an elaborate dancing ritual, when introduced to their female counterparts than from the clear-headed insects.

However, she discovered that the drunken males did not have a higher mating percentage than the less aggressive sober flies. Additionally, the intoxicated ones produced less offspring than that of the non-alcoholic subjects.

While it has been previously discovered that alcohol causes stress by producing Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), chemically reactive molecules within body tissue that contains oxygen, Wai noted that an increase in these levels ultimately cause tissue damage.

“We can hypothesize that low fertility in alcohol-fed males might be linked to low sperm viability in males due to high stress and high ROS production,” Lam said.

Dr. Preethi Radhakrishnan, Lam’s faculty mentor, helped her gather additional data on sperm viability and hopes to one day publish their findings.

“Kat’s success in the competition was quite an achievement because she was not only competing against honor students from four-year colleges, but she was up against honor students attending research one universities,” Radhakrishnan said, adding that just 60 percent of abstract proposals were accepted in the competition.

“It demonstrates the high caliber of academic and research work that is taking place at LaGuardia,” she added.

Lam is expected to graduate from the school this December, and she plans to continue her work with Dr. Radhakrishnan as a volunteer researcher at Sloan Kettering while taking classes at Barnard College through the LaGuardia-Barnard Intercollegiate Partnership program.

For the 20-year-old who immigrated from China in 2011, it has been a whirlwind experience. Upon settling in Flushing with her mother, she worked at a supermarket, and in her spare time, spent time reading books in the library as a way to improve her English.

“I never thought I could achieve all that I have,” Lam said. “I have to thank LaGuardia for the academic experience and the opportunities it gave me and the faculty who supported me.”

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