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Fruit flies travel underground to Sudbury's SNOLAB

Creighton Mine workers have been sharing their cage ride underground with some unusual guests this week.
SNOLAB is a physics lab located two kilometres underground near Sudbury, Ont., and exists within Vale's Creighton Mine. (SNOlab)
SNOLAB is bringing fruit flies underground to look at how pressure affects their biochemistry. Thomas Merritt is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry. He's conducting the study. He was in our studio to tell us more about it. 6:57

Creighton Mine workers have been sharing their cage ride underground with some unusual guests this week.

Sudbury scientists have been bringing hundreds of fruit flies two kilometers underground to the SNOLAB, located in Vale's Creighton Mine, to test how the flies cope under pressure.

Laurentian biochemistry professor Thomas Merritt said looking at the genetics and biology of the flies underground — where the pressure is 10 per cent greater than on the earth’s surface — can tell them a lot about what happens to humans.
Biochemistry Professor Thomas Merritt is studying fruit flies and how they react to the pressure they are exposed to underground. (Thomas Merritt)

“What we are doing with flies is essentially mimicking a miner's day, by taking the flies down to SNOLAB, having them stay at pressure for about eight hours, then bringing them back up,” he said.

“We flash freeze the flies as we exit the lift [cage], and then we come back to the lab and analyze them.”

Merritt said they hope to learn something from the changes in the fly molecules about functions such as energy production and breathing.
What can fruit flies tell researchers at Laurentian University about why miners are so tired? CBC Sudbury Morning North radio show host Markus Schwabe talked with LU's Thomas Merritt to find out. (Mr. Checker/Wikimedia Commons)

“In a relatively short period of time, [about] half an hour, [we can look at] thousands of different metabolites — the small molecules that drive our biology our energy productions,” he said.

Merritt said he has also created a pressure chamber above ground to see if they get similar results to what they find underground.

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