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No sleep, no problem, but keep the grub coming

Fruit flies thrive without slumber, until food gets low

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5:40pm, January 30, 2012

Some people can forgo sleep and still stay sharp. But a new experiment with fruit flies suggests even those gifted people may be making an evolutionary trade-off that ensures sleep is here to stay.

A variation in a single gene enables a strain of fruit flies to miss 12 hours of sleep without building up a sleep debt. The flies, nicknamed “rovers” for their active behavior, can also learn and remember things after a sleepless night, scientists report online January 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But, scientists say, the flies that cope well with sleep deprivation appear more vulnerable to vagaries in food supply.

The findings may eventually help scientists answer one of the most “fundamental questions in the sleep field, that is ‘what is the core function of sleep?’ ” says David Raizen, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the study.

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