The Fly Room

When a wide-eyed 10-year-old girl visited her father’s insect laboratory in 1930, she received an unorthodox education in genetics, and his philandering didn’t help. Betsey’s father was Calvin Bridges, a student of TH Morgan, the subject of yet another biopic feature film released late last year. The laboratory was where Drosophila flies were cultured in milk bottles, enabling the first major experiments of their heredity.

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The film’s director and writer is Alexis Gambis who is also a geneticist. In their different ways, he and Bridges tended to neglect the young Betsey, rather like the flies’ diet of bananas hanging on the wall. The film’s reviewers take a dim view of this, upset that the film runs short on the social costs of the scientific high life. Betsey is now 95 years old and talks of her anger at the end of the film.

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Morgan and Bridges mapped the location of several important genes, began to understand how they are transmitted on chromosomes and how X and Y chromosomes determine the sex of the fruit flies.

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