Having a wake for Drosophila

drosophila by Image Editor

In Which, Despite Not Being The Crowd Favourite, Drosophila funebris Holds D. melanogaster Down and Kicks It Repeatedly in the Teeth
[Via Catalogue of Organisms]

It’s been two years in the making, but the ICZN decision on Drosophila has finally been announced (ICZN, 2010). You may recall that an application had been submitted (Linde et al., 2008) to make Drosophila melanogaster, the subject of countless genetic studies, the type species of the genus instead of the current holder of that title, D. funebris. See previous posts here and here for background details.

And the verdict: by a surprisingly large margin (23 to 4, with one absence), the Commission has turned the proposal down. Drosophila funebris remains the valid type species of the genus; D. melanogaster retains the potential for reclassification. Those of you with a particular interest in the workings of nomenclature* would do well to get hold of a copy of the decision. In light of the higher than usual public interest in this case, the unusual step has been taken of publishing individual comments from each of the commissioners on the reasoning behind their decisions. As well as the insight provided into this particular case (and it’s worth noting that some of the commissioners on both sides of the floor ended up voting against their own initial sympathies), some of the comments provide interesting talking points about the role of nomenclature in general.

*Yes, we do exist. I’m afraid the doctors say that there’s nothing they can do.


Drosophila melanogaster is probably the most scientifically important insect. It has been a model organism for almost 100 years. Its genome has been examined in greater detail than almost any other complex creature and its importance to research is immeasurable.

But, the arcane rules of naming life on Earth mandates that it may lose it name. It would be called Sophophora melanogaster. See, the genus name has always been reserved for the first description, which was not of Drosophila melanogaster but Drosophila funebris.

Recent work has revealed that there is too much genetic distance between these two fly specis for them to remain in the same genus. One of them must be moved to another, newly named, genus. By the rules, since funebris was first, it gets to stay with Drosophila and melanogaster must move.

But this can be horrible for all the databases that list the genus as Drosophila melanogaster or just plain Drosophila. Not only will someone have to change/fix all of this – 100 years of data – but it will greatly complicate things in research as these databases are accessed.

Lots of headaches. Two years ago, when this was first broached, the consensus seemed to be that this would never happen. Well, it has.

I think we should all think about this quote from the comments at Sandwalk:

First they went after Prince, I did not stand up because I was not a singer.

Then they went after Pluto, I did not stand up because I was not an astronomer.

Then they went after Drosophila…