Dr Alan Gunn tells us what makes maggots so fascinating and useful to scientists.
Five ways maggots help us:
1. Genetics and molecular biology
The common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is widely used in genetics and molecular biology. Useful for research purposes, it can easily be reared in a laboratory, has only four pairs of chromosomes, breeds quickly, and lays many eggs. We share about 60% of our DNA with fruit flies so the species are useful as model organisms to help us better understand ourselves.
2. Forensic biology
Because it only takes a few minutes for certain fly species to begin laying eggs in decomposing flesh, forensic entomologists can determine the time of death of a corpse by noting the various species and studying the age of the maggots
3. Nutrient recycling
If you’ve ever come across the wriggling white creatures in your bin or compost, it’s a fairly natural reaction to be horrified. But next time you come across them, keep in mind that maggots are actually doing good work in nature by breaking down dead matter – they’re cleaning the world for us.
4. Biological control
Some species of maggots feed on pest invertebrates so we can use them for controlling aphids, greenfly and a number of other pest organisms as a natural alternative to pesticides.
We’ve all heard about how maggots were used in the past to help clean soldiers wounds on the battlefield by clearing out the dead, bacteria-infested tissues. But did you know the use of medicinal maggots is making something of a comeback? With the rise of antibiotic resistance and the increased prevalence of chronic diseases that lead to non-healing wounds, there are certainly benefits to revisiting maggot therapy.
Did you know?
Casu marzu – a maggot-infested cheese – is a delicacy in Sardinia.
If you’re fascinated by the animal world, even creepy crawlies, why not find out about studying zoology at LJMU?