The Fly Room : early history of genetics

Dr Robert Callow

A century ago, our understanding of the mechanism of heredity was revolutionised by a series of ground-breaking studies in a laboratory, known as ‘The Fly Room’ in the University of Columbia in New York. The ‘fly’ in question was a harmless little fruit-fly, known as Drosophila melanogaster. This insect had a number of special properties which rendered it ideal for genetic studies: a small number of chromosomes readily visible in the salivary glands; a large sex-chromosome which exposed sex-linked patterns of inheritance; a short life cycle of only seventeen days and a range of distinctive single-gene mutants affecting body colour and shape, eye colour and shape and wing size and shape. These properties enabled researchers in Columbia to resolve many of the controversies which had emerged from studies in the 19th Century. Their discoveries laid the groundwork for the great strides in genetics which took place in the 20th Century. We shall begin by exploring the pioneering studies of the 19th Century, in order to arrive at the state of knowledge and understanding which prevailed when Drosophila came under the spotlight. We shall then proceed to follow the fascinating revelations as they unfolded. The findings did more than lay the basis for modern genetics; they underscored the validity of the scientific method. Presentations will be supported with visual images. Detailed notes will be provided and discussion encouraged.

Recommended reading
Bateson, B. (2009). William Bateson, Naturalist: His Essays and Addresses Together with a Short Account of His Life. Cambridge University Press.
ISBN-10: 1108004342; ISBN-13: 978-1108004343
Shine, I. & Wrobel, S. (2009). Thomas Hunt Morgan: Pioneer of Genetics. The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN-10: 0813193370; ISBN-13: 978-0813193373
Whitehouse, H.L.K. (1969). Towards an Understanding of the Mechanism of Heredity. Edward Arnold, London. SBN 7131 2225 0

Day: Monday           Time: 10.30am – 12.30pm
10 weeks, 13 January to 16 March 2020
Long Street Methodist Church, Long Street, Middleton
Manchester M24 5EU
We shall meet in one of Edgar Wood’s (1860~1935) attractive ‘Arts and Crafts’ rooms attached to the church. The room is approachable via the small front gate on Long Street, which forms part of Rochdale Road (A664)


Day: Friday           Time: 2 -4pm
10 weeks, 17 January to 20 March 2020
Wilmslow Library, South Drive, Wilmslow SK9 1NW
Tel: 01625 374060  website:

Price Concessions Minimum No. Maximum No.
£50 negotiable 10 30

Advance booking is not required. Payment may be made at the first meeting.

If you wish to book, please send your MANCENT booking form with accompanying payment to the address below. If you prefer to pay through BACS, contact the lecturer for further particulars.
Please ensure you state clearly which day/venue you wish to attend.
Contact details: Dr R.S. Callow
60 Primrose Lane, Glossop, Derbyshire, SK13 6LW
telephone/fax: 01457 865049       mobile: 075 1327 7097