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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Saving Drosophila

According to all the normal rules of taxonomy, the name of the species Drosophila melanogaster should be changed to Sophophora melanogaster [Sophophora, the New Model Organism.

As reported by evolgen there is a movement underway to save Drosohila. Here's the actual proposal from the International Commission of Zoologial Nomenclature [Case 3407].
Case 3407

Drosophila Fallén, 1823 (Insecta, Diptera): proposed conservation of usage

Kim van der Linde
Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306–1100, U.S.A.

Gerhard Bächli
Zoological Museum, Winterthurerstraße 190, 8057 Zürich, Switzerland

Masanori J. Toda
Institute of Low Temperature Science, Hokkaido University, N19 W8, Kita-ku, Sapporo 060–0819, Japan

Wen-Xia Zhang
College of Life Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, 100871, China Toru Katoh COE for Neo-Science of Natural History, Hokkaido University, N10 W8,
Kita-ku, Sapporo 060–0810, Japan

Yao-Guang Hu
Institute of Low Temperature Science, Hokkaido University, N19 W8, Kita-ku, Sapporo 060–0819, Japan

Greg S. Spicer
Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, California 94132–1722, U.S.A.

Abstract. The purpose of this application, under Article 70.2 of the Code, is to conserve the current usage of the widely used name Drosophila Fallén, 1823 (a genus of flies widely used in biological research, particularly in genetics and developmental biology) by the designation of Drosophila melanogaster Meigen, 1830 as the type species of Drosophila. Detailed phylogenetic studies show that the genus Drosophila as currently defined is paraphyletic. Splitting the genus requires that the subgenus Sophophora Sturtevant, 1939 must be ranked as a separate genus. The type species of
Sophophora is by original designation Drosophila melanogaster Meigen, 1830. Ranking Sophophora as a genus and changing the name of Drosophila melanogaster to Sophophora melanogaster would result in major nomenclatural instability due to the breadth and vast number of publications, using this combination. In addition, many refer to ‘Drosophila’ when ‘Drosophila melanogaster’ is actually meant; the two names are used interchangeably. It is therefore proposed that Drosophila melanogaster Meigen, 1830 is designated as the type species of Drosophila.

Keywords. Nomenclature; taxonomy; DROSOPHILIDAE; Drosophila; Sophophora; Drosophila melanogaster; Drosophila funebris; fruit flies.
Join the worldwide protest on April 31st and march to your capital city to save Drosophila!!!!


  1. I need to see a complete alternative classification of the paraphyletic genus Drosophila if I'm going to support this. Sloppy sentimentality isn't good enough.

  2. james goetz says,

    Sloppy sentimentality isn't good enough.

    Sure it is.

  3. mxjeupThis is about people who are not taxonomists continuing to know what is being spoken of when we talk about one of the five most important model organisms in biology. Nomenclatural stability is a sensible and eminently practical thing to ask for, in this case.

  4. Don't detractors to standardisation always plead nomenclature instability? Granted, the scale is larger, but I doubt the outcome will be any different. People will write articles about Sophophora melanogaster, with the caveat that it was formerly D. melanogaster. A decade of this, no one will remember that S. melanogaster was originally D. melanogaster.

  5. Due to one particular teacher in high school, I thought they were called Drosophilia for the first few years of my biological education. It still slips out sometimes.

  6. "Granted, the scale is larger, but I doubt the outcome will be any different. "

    At the moment, PubMed returns 63583 citations for Drosophila. ISI returns >100,000. Google Scholar returns 974,000. At some point a quantitative difference becomes a qualitative one, and the nomenclature change becomes even more of a pain in the ass than the pedants who are insisting on it.

  7. First Pluto, now drosophila. Won't somebody please think of the children?

  8. Since we all know microevolution takes place but macroevolution is impossible, this means doom(!) for any Drosophila that wants to reproduce with a Sophophora.

  9. Pedantry in science has its uses. For example, IUPAC naming conventions. Or more pertinently, phylogenetic accuracy. It makes little sense to perpetuate an inaccuracy, and it seems to me that a lot of people are only thinking in the short term. An exception to formalisation, standardisation, and the like sets a precedent which can be cited by scientists in other fields who perceive an arbitrary amount of discomfort is enough of a barrier to being correct. It is far better to have little or no exceptions so everyone can be on the same (correct) page. That's why old literature is littered with the carcasses of bad names.

    Furthermore, it's not like future Sophophora scientists won't know what an article is talking about when they're scanning Pubmed 2.0 and get a hit on Drosophila.

  10. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. (Emerson)

    This particular quest for consitency qualifies as foolish.

    There is a difference between the IUPAC nomenclature and biological taxonomies. IUPAC names are definitions taxonomic names are hypotheses about evolutionary history.

    This is not at all the same. If you misidentify a sample as 2-butanol, 2-butanol will still exist. If the fruitfly taxonomy is revised again, there will not be a Sophophora melanogaster.

    And the slippery slope argument is hogwash. There are a few examples like Drosophila, and I can enumerate on the toes of one foot.