Nothing to worry about, just mutant fruit flies invented by a neural network
3 min read

Nothing to worry about, just mutant fruit flies invented by a neural network

Nothing to worry about, just mutant fruit flies invented by a neural network

People send me the weirdest ideas.

I knew that fruit flies are a mainstay of research labs, but I had never given them much thought until Prof. Greg Neely emailed me to point out how weird the names of mutant fruit flies are. There’s a strain of mutants called “Out Cold” where the fly loses motor coordination below a certain temperature, and another nicknamed “Moonwalker” that walks backwards. Could a neural network learn how to invent new names and mutations?

The problem was I didn’t have a big list of examples to train a neural net on - there just aren’t that many quirky ones. So I turned to a strategy I’ve used in the past: prompting a general-purpose neural net called GPT-2. GPT-2′s training examples were huge chunks of text from the internet - maybe it had seen enough on the internet that it could figure out what I was asking it for? I prompted GPT-2 with a short list of example fruit fly mutants, and asked it to add to the list. The smallest GPT-2, the 117 million parameter model I sampled via Max Woolf’s GPT-2-small interface, wasn’t quite up to the task - it would drift into song lyrics or conversations or lists of vampires. The next-largest version of GPT-2, however, the 345 million parameter model I sampled via talktotransformer.com, often got the hang of it. I’m particularly impressed at how the names seem to match their attributes, even if the attributes are a bit far-fetched.

Macho Man: Likes to punch.

Soap-Sucking Insects: a gene that causes the fruit flies to be attracted to soaps which smell funny.

Tornado: A fly that can take a huge amount of damage during turbulence.

Chocolate Eye: The fly that drinks and stumbles when eating candy.

Jungle Fire: Any of several genes that makes the flies more prone to fires.

They get weirder. A lot weirder.

Jingle Bells: Does not speak but sings.

The Last Emperor: Has a huge black mustache.

Unicorn Faced: A gene that prevents flies from developing fruit fly traits.

Grigk: A gene that makes the fruit fly think it has been turned into a gorilla.

Frogman: The fruit fly that makes a nuisance of itself when you try to do anything dirty.

Lover-Possum-Worm: A gene that affects mating habits of fruit flies.

The Brain-less Fly: The fly that has no brain.

I’m with the Cheddar: The fly that has no brain. But the flies aren’t with the Cheddar!

Pork and Cheddar: The flies where the hair was replaced by the brains of those who ate Pork and Cheddar.

Some of the fly mutants are rather terrifying. I think you might need to fill out a special form to be allowed to use these mutants.

Linda: Is able to communicate through vibrations.

Zebra: Gives off sparks when he moves.

Lana: Her eyes are covered by a large, purple cloud.

Nerd Rage: Has two eyeballs, but is pretty much invincible.

Chocolate Corn Cone: Has six heads. It’s made out of chocolate and corn (in addition to the brains from its victims).

Lemondogs: The fruit flies from the American Southwest who were responsible for killing the dinosaurs and driving scientists crazy years earlier. As a consequence they evolved into the same kind of insect that scientists now recognize today as the Lommy Beetle, the “mammal-sized flea” from the Southwest.

The Worm: Gives birth to worms and can fly. Wormholes between worlds and hyperspace allow the worm to travel to and from one world and return to the home (and body) of another.

These are some of the subtler mutants. Takes careful experimentation to figure out which one you have. At least you can be pretty sure it’s not Chocolate Corn Cone.

Maggie’s Kiss: A fly that doesn’t even

In a Perfect World: A fruit fly that’s never met and never will be.

I’ma Be Here Now: Causes people to be happy even when they’re still alive.

The Cat that Kicked the Can: Is a good boy.

Cute Silly: A fly that is cute and lovable when it is stressed.

Gripping Burden: Stays alive even if it doesn’t move much.

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