Thoughts from an undergraduate researcher
October 4, 2018

Stephanie Zhao, a superstar Saltz lab undergraduate, describes her experiences in the lab so far:

"Lessons from Fruit Flies

Pooting? Watching fruit flies lunge at one another? Painting fruit flies? If you are slightly confused as to what these things are/what doing these things are like, you have come to the right place! For this blog post, I just want to briefly touch on some of the unusual skills and things I have gotten to do in lab as well as point out one of the main lessons I learned from working there.

First, please let me introduce myself – my name is Stephanie Zhao, and I am a rising senior Ecology & Evolutionary Biology major at Rice University. I joined the Saltz lab in the fall of my sophomore year and have been a part of the lab ever since. 😊

Now back to the lab matters at hand – what is pooting? Pooting was one of the first things I learned how to do once I joined the lab. It involves inhaling quickly into a small tube to draw a fruit fly up into the tube’s other end, with a small piece of mesh in between to prevent the fruit fly from being swallowed. The fruit fly can then be transported from its previous test tube into the small petri dishes that we used to conduct aggression trials. The aggression trials were a part of how we studied behavior in the lab. After pooting various flies (separated by genotype and whether they were fed drugs or not) into specific petri dish arenas, we observed the flies and noted how often they lunged at one another. The last interesting thing (but certainly not the only other interesting thing) I learned in the lab skills-wise was that it was possible to paint fruit flies and how to do so. To do this, we take specific flies that we want to identify during behavioral observations and then paint a small dot on their pronotum. While this takes quite a bit of hand-eye coordination and quite a few flies have been unintentionally sacrificed in the attempts of this, I can say that I have gotten at least a little better at it this past year.

With that said, my time in the lab thus far has been quite a learning experience, both skills wise through techniques discussed above and others, increasing my general scientific awareness through the papers that we read and discuss during lab meetings, and in everyday life through what I have realized upon reflecting on my lab experiences.

Noticing the little things around me has been perhaps the biggest non-technical lesson I have learned. Through the sorting of thousands of individual fruit flies by gender to painting them and watching their behavior, I have been encouraged to take in more of the little details around me. Easily missed or underappreciated things like the sun shining through the leaves of the trees on campus, the small ants artfully creating a trail on the side of the path, and how nice it is when the breeze blows the right direction so your hair is gently swept behind your face rather than in front are a few examples of things I feel I more fully appreciate because of my time in the lab.

If you had asked me what I would work with in college research, I honestly don’t think fruit flies would have been anywhere in my answer (or even the top 20 of potential answers). However, these past two years in the Saltz lab have been incredibly enlightening and I am so thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of it."

Thank you Stephanie!

Have a question or interested in joining the Saltz Lab? Contact us today.

Contact Us