My name is Dr Nicola White and I am a researcher in ecology. I started with a PhD in acarology at the University of Birmingham and moved onto a career as a researcher technician. I started working with Drosophila in 2017 with Dr Tom Price who, without his help, I couldn’t have achieved this website. Here, I’ve written about the idea and why we included the information we have.
This project started with the simple idea of taking some photos of the Drosophila species we had in the lab for training new researchers as well as an outreach project. As we gathered more species, the project become a bigger and bigger task as my interest in photography grew. My main idea from the outreach perspective, was to take photos of those which looked most different to aid with education (e.g. for schools as a visual resource for showing evolution of closely related species) but also for ID purposes, between males and females as well as between species.
What we ended up with
By the end of a 3 year grant, the idea developed into what is here today. I have taken photos of 33 species so far. Each image is created using focus-stacking between 10-100 photos. Microscopes have a relatively narrow focus-range which means only part of the fly is ever in perfect focus at one time. It is difficult to attain a high-quality photo with the whole fly in focus using a single photo. By stacking photos taken at various focus-points we can create a high-quality image with clarity across the whole fly.
What we also ended up with was a whole lot of knowledge on rearing many different species of Drosophila. The problem with many research grants, not only in ecology, is the loss of knowledge that inevitably happens when projects end, and the people involved move to new roles. Sometimes it is difficult for all that persons’ knowledge to be given to someone else.
As the research technician, I had the most hands-on experience with the 47 species we had in stocks. Once I left, that knowledge on not only rearing each individual species, but also how to manage the task of rearing so many species simultaneously, would have been lost. And so, I added another section to the project i.e. this website. The Culturing Flies section is a description of the standard rearing techniques I’ve been taught. The Tips and Tricks section is all the other information I have learnt, the quirks that some stocks have and how I solved various issues.
The bulk of these photos had to be taken within 3 weeks due to the ending of my contract and leaving for a new position. I had a choice between a few species with perfect photos or many with high-quality but not so perfect photos.
The easiest way (possibly only way) to get perfect photos of Drosophila is to mount them – basically glue deceased flies into a position to keep them from moving whilst taking the 50+ photos needed. This takes a lot of time and patience to get the legs, wings, heads into the right position.
I made the choice to photograph many species without mounting, only using CO2 to anaesthetise them. This meant the flies didn’t always stay perfectly still. With only 3 weeks available, I took the photos ‘blindly’- by which I mean I took thousands of photos without checking how well they were going to stack; it would have taken too much time to check each and I preferred to spend that time taking more photos.
So my photos aren’t perfect. Some had wiggling legs that mean I couldn’t get a clear final image of them. Others, I cut the focus off too short and missed the wings or feet. They are also not staged, so their positions are exactly how they fell asleep on the gas. Whether that’s wings spread out, legs straight or curled, head tilted or proboscis sticking out. Overall though, it has been a great success and I am happy with what I’ve achieved.
All my images are free for you to use, I only ask that you reference myself as the author. There is a page dedicated to each species in the Gallery, and a link on the page to download the full-size images. All the photos on the website have been compressed to save data and aid quicker loading of each page.
There’s a whole wealth of information about Drosophila on the internet, in publications and books; on a massive range of topics from ecology to cancer to neurology. The fundamentals are always the same though, how do we keep them alive. As mentioned earlier, I’ve included the basics of what is needed to culture flies, as well as the tricks I’ve learnt over the years. Within the Gallery, I have split the images into individual species. On the page for each species I have included some very brief but fundamental information about each species. More information on some of these categories are in the Tips and Tricks section.
Food: this is the food I used (recipes on ‘Culturing Flies‘ page, methods on protocols.io)
Rearing temperature: this is the temperature I reared the flies at. This does not mean it is the only or even their optional temperature. We had to concentrate our samples as much as possible so the majority of our stocks were at 22°C.
Pupation location: this may have little importance to most but is something rarely reported when discussing fly culturing and could be of interest to some.
Activity: I’ve split this very briefly into two descriptors with no formal measures, only my general observations; how much the fly is physically active and then how fecund it is.
Time to adult and age at sexual maturity: these are very important for planning experiments; knowing the timeline you need to consider between each stage of the protocol.
There are some blanks, in particular for development time/sexual maturity; if you can help, please leave a comment or use the contact me page and I’ll add this to the relevant page. I don’t need a reference, I will list it as unpublished data which is far better than no information. For the information I have so far, I have included hyperlinks to the publications used for the time to adult and age of sexual maturity values.
I hope this website helps. I want it to be an open resource for anyone to use and everyone to contribute any information that is missing. I’ve included all the information I have, but there is so much I still don’t know. Even if, like my activity notes, your information is only your observations, it might just be the help someone else needs.
Other useful webpages that may be of interest are:
Tom Price: https://drthomasprice.wordpress.com/
Darren Obbard: https://obbard.bio.ed.ac.uk/
Nicolas Gompel: http://gompel.org/