Pickens writes "University of Pennsylvania biologists have discovered a mutation in fruit flies aptly named the 'couch potato' gene that allows them to simply chill out — entering a mild state of quasi-hibernation known as diapause, when winter arrives. 'It's not like they're bears sleeping in a cave,' says Paul Schmidt. 'They just look like they're a little bit more sluggish.' The couch potato gene, first discovered in the early 1990s, got its nickname because flies with mutations in the gene became really sluggish and behaved abnormally. Little is known about the underlying evolutionary genetic architecture, but in diapause, the slacking off is far less severe. The flies' bodily functions slow down, and they are better able to tolerate stress. The fruit fly gene may have implications for human health, as it can help biologists study the function of the nervous system and diseases such as epilepsy, refuting a recent statement by a political candidate that fruit fly research has 'little or nothing to do with the public good.'"
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