Why flies? Inexpensive public engagement exercises to explain the value of basic biomedical research on Drosophila melanogaster.
Invertebrate model organisms are powerful systems for uncovering conserved principles of animal biology. Despite widespread use in scientific communities, invertebrate research is often severely undervalued by laypeople. Here, we present a set of simple, inexpensive public outreach exercises aimed at explaining to the public why basic research on one particular invertebrate, the insect Drosophila melanogaster, is valuable. First, we designed seven teaching modules that highlight cutting-edge research in Drosophila genetics, metabolism, physiology, and behavior. We then implemented these exercises in a public outreach event that included both children and adults. Quantitative evaluation of participant feedback suggests that these exercises 1) teach principles of animal biology, 2) help laypeople better understand why researchers study fruit flies, and 3) are effective over a wide range of age groups. Overall, this work provides a blueprint for how to use Drosophila as a vehicle for increasing public awareness and appreciation of basic research on genetically tractable insects in particular and invertebrates in general.