MEMOIR from Susan Bradford

Mendel, Fruit Flies, and Me  

by Susan Bradford

             At Paul D. Schreiber High School in 1960, each person in Mr. Martinson’s biology class had to do a big project or research paper in the spring.  This project had to be ongoing, in-depth, and would count for a large part of our grade.  Somehow, I decided it would be interesting to “prove” Mendel’s laws of genetics.[1] Actually, I was going to try to replicate some of the patterns Gregor Mendel had predicted would occur in pea varieties.

I ordered various strains of drosophila, fruit flies, from the Cold Spring Harbor Lab[2] where my good friend Betsy’s sister worked.  I decided upon ordering three varieties:  regular red-eyed fruit flies, white-eyed fruit flies, and dumpies (fruit flies with very short wings) because I thought those varying characteristics would make it fairly easy to distinguish one from the other.

             I visited neighbors who had babies in order to collect a lot of glass baby food jars to hold the assorted groups of flies and their food.  I used instructions to mix up an agar and fruit medium as food to put in the bottles.  Then I put fruit flies with one pure type into certain bottles, and each of the other types in other bottles, and counted what I had.  In the days to follow, I would keep track of each generation.  I used a plan about crossing the strains in certain ways. Then I had to observe and count the first generation of flies produced and, after that, the second and third generations of flies to see which and how many inherited the red eyes, white eyes, short wings or long wings.

It was fascinating, but counting them was difficult and involved using liquid ether to put the flies temporarily to sleep.  Once etherized, I could empty the flies onto a piece of white paper in order to closely observe the characteristics, separate the flies into groups, and count them.  From our local pharmacy, I purchased a can of ether that my mother made me store in our garage since it was so volatile.

Ether has a very strong and distinctive, rather sweet and sickly smell that I may never forget. I actually became light-headed sometimes as I bent over to count the flies. The counting was tricky because you had to use enough ether to put the flies to sleep for the entire time it took to count and sort them but not so much that it would kill them. I knew this was important but had no idea of the amounts to use.  Naturally, several weeks into this project, I did not use enough ether, and after carefully counting and sorting the tiny fruit flies, hundreds of them woke up and flew off.  We had fruit flies everywhere in the house for a long time.  Sitting down to dinner, in the living room, or taking a bath, my family and I would be besieged by tiny black spots before our eyes.  But the worst part was that I had to begin my experiment all over again.

Luckily, I had set aside enough of the “pure” flies of each variety that I was able to begin again without delay.   Not surprisingly, the next time, as I emptied the etherized flies onto the paper, I noticed that their little wings were at right angles, which was not good.  I had killed that entire batch because I wanted to be certain they would not wake up in the middle of counting again.  Finally, I figured it out and was able to etherize them properly.  Over the next several generations of flies, I was able to do it correctly and ended up with a very successful project.  My numbers came out very close to what would have been predicted using Mendel’s laws.

My teacher was pleased and gave me a good grade.

I was happy because I felt as if I were a real scientist, and I have memories I will keep.

My parents were probably just glad I did not knock myself out or blow up the house.

 [1] Mendelian inheritance is a set of primary tenets relating to the transmission of hereditary characteristics from parent organisms to their children;The laws of inheritance were derived by Gregor Mendel, a 19th century monk conducting hybridization experiments in garden peas. Between 1856 and 1863, he cultivated and tested some 29,000 pea plants. From these experiments he deduced two generalizations which later became known as Mendel’s Laws of Heredity or Mendelian inheritance. He described these laws in a two part paper, Experiments on Plant Hybridization that he read to the Natural History Society of Brno on February 8 and March 8, 1865, and which was published in 1866.   Wikipedia

[2] Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a private, not-for-profit research and education institution at the forefront of efforts in molecular biology and genetics to generate knowledge that will yield better diagnostics and treatments for cancer, neurological diseases and other major causes of human suffering.  Home to seven Nobelists, the laboratory was founded in 1890 as one of the first
Home to seven Nobelists, the Laboratory was founded in 1890 as institutions in the world to specialize in genetics research. CSHL has played a pivotal role in the emergence of molecular genetics, the scientific foundation of the contemporary revolution in biology and biotechnology. At CSHL in 1953, James D. Watson presented his first public lecture on his and Francis Crick’s discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA, for which each later won a Nobel Prize. As director and then president of the Laboratory from 1968 to 2003, Watson was instrumental in developing CSHL into one of the world’s most influential cancer research centers. www.cshl.ed

BOLI member and SGL Susan Bradford

Susan Bradford was a teacher and administrator who retired from Maimonides School in Brookline and has been a longtime BOLLI member since then.   She has led several history related courses and been active on various BOLLI committees. This piece was first written in a BOLLI writing class led by Ruth Harriet Jacobs.





From Fran Feldman:  “I do think about writing at this particular time, and your line about managing this pandemic struck a chord.”  She went on to offer a fine suggestion for us.
“I wonder if it wouldn’t be valuable to pose one question we could answer in a short paragraph; then we could publish them in the blog. Something like:
1. What has the pandemic taught you about yourself that you didn’t already know?
2. What new ways to manage stress have you devised over the past many months?
3. What’s been positive about the social isolation and change of routine you’ve had to adapt to during the pandemic?”
I think Fran has provided us with a great idea, so I have included all three of her prompts here in an effort to jog your thinking.  (You need not, of course, respond to all of them!)
Send me a paragraph (or so) about what you’ve learned during this strange time in our lives.  Don’t worry about writing a “formal” item as this isn’t really about writing.   It’s about sharing with our fellow BOLLI members/friends.  I will compile responses and publish them together.   (Send to
Thank you, Fran–and BOLLI!



Well, BOLLI friends, it’s time, once again, to ask for your help.  The most challenging part of managing our blog is getting enough material to post on a regular basis, which is, at least in part, why we’ve had fewer and fewer posts over the course of the past several months.   And so, I am appealing to you.

Please contribute to this publication which is, in essence, a venture all about US–who we are, what interests us, concerns us, moves us, inspires us, and more.  Your contribution does not need to be a formal item–you can share ANYTHING you like!  And, in fact, as we have all been more “sequestered” in the past several months than we had been accustomed to prior to this pandemic, our blog offers us a chance to tell each other how we’ve been managing this time.  Think about sharing–

  • ideas or questions you’ve been considering
  • books, tv shows, or movies you’ve enjoyed during this time
  • crafts, hobbies, pastimes you’ve returned to or begun to explore
  • walks, hiking trails, beautiful spots you’ve discovered or rediscovered
  • new year’s resolutions? old year’s farewells?
  • photography, poetry, prose, etc.
  • interviews of fellow BOLLI members for “Meet Our Members” features (if you like, you can just send me information about members you’d like to see featured, and I’ll take it from there)

There’s really no limit to the possibilities here.  So, please send material!

BOLLI Matters editor Sue Wurster

Send material, suggestions, ideas, etc. to or use the comment box here to share with all.

Thank you!


The Chef’s Corner: SOUP

Both Brenda Gleckman and Joan Thormann came up with soup recipes for us for the new year… Sweet and Sour Cabbage soup and Mushroom soup.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup from Brenda Gleckman

Filling, warming, richly flavorful, almost a meal by itself is this old school Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup.This recipe is healthy, low fat, and perfect for a cold winter day.

For those of us lucky enough to remember our Eastern European mothers’ and grandmothers’ delicious Sweet and Sour Stuffed Cabbage, that recipe, in soup form, will elicit a flood of wonderful food memories. It may permanently erase from your minds those dull, tasteless diet cabbage soup recipes that circulated among diet conscious friends decades ago before the internet.


1 pound lean or extra lean ground beef

2 TBS olive oil

6 cups of water

4 cups reduced sodium beef stock or broth

2 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes, undrained

1 medium head cabbage sliced in one inch slices

2 cups onion, chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

1 cup carrots, chopped

3/4 cup ketchup

1/2 cup brown sugar or 12 packets sugar substitute

1/3 cup cider vinegar

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

  1. Brown beef in a very large soup pot in 2TBS of olive oil.Add all the ingredients.
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3. Cover and turn heat down to simmer for 30 minutes or until cabbage has softened but is not mushy.

Makes about 22 cups of soup

Mushroom Soup from Joan Thormann

Cold weather is here, so it’s time for comforting soup. I found this delicious easy made-from-scratch recipe in a low-fat recipe book.  I modified the recipe, and whoever I serve it to loves it.

One fall day, our Brookline condo association had a get together.  People brought soup, bread, or dessert. I brought my mushroom soup.  Present at our potluck were a number of residents who had emigrated from Russia, including Yuriv, the building manager.  He took one cup of mushroom soup and then finished a second one.  After he had enough soup for the time being, he circulated around the room asking who made the mushroom soup.  Yuriv finally found me and said, “I must to have this recipe.”  I don’t know if he or his wife ever made the soup but I did give him the recipe.


10 oz. sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup chopped onion or chopped scallions

2 Tablespoons butter or margarine

3 Tablespoons flour

2 1/2 to 3 cups 1% or 2% milk

2 chicken bouillon cubes or 2 porcini mushroom boullion cubes

1/2 cup light sour cream or nonfat yogurt

5 Tablespoons sherry

  1. Heat about a teaspoon of olive oil in a frying pan.  Stir the onions or scallions in the pan, cook until they wilt about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms and stir.  Cook until the mushrooms are brown and about half their original size. Add 2 tablespoons sherry if mushrooms stick. Set aside when done.
  2. Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Stir in the flour quickly to make a roux.
  3. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring as you  pour it in, to get rid of lumps of flour.
  4. Add the bouillon cubes and continue to stir the milk mixture until it thickens to your taste.  Sprinkle in more flour or add more milk as necessary.
  5. Stir the onion mushroom mixture into the saucepan.
  6. Remove sauce pan from the stove and stir in the sour cream or yogurt.
  7. Stir in sherry to taste, and serve.

Makes four or five servings.

Note: For those who are not concerned about calories, you can use full fat milk, sour cream, or yogurt.  You may also enjoy using cream for some of the milk.


Brenda Gleckman

Retired psychotherapist and medical school educator, Brenda has been a BOLLI member since 2004 and a “foodie” all her adult life. She made her first attempt at cooking in August 1960 when she was a  new mother living in a third floor walk-up in Washington DC without air conditioning. She was determined to make a pot roast for her husband, a sleep deprived intern at Walter Reed.  When the roast she was searing slipped off the fork into the pot and the hot oil jumped onto her nearly bare chest, she ended up in the ER. But that did not deter her,  an early and avid follower of Julia Child, and she collected and cooked recipes from every ethnicity. Her recipe for guacamole has gone “viral” and has bestowed upon  her the title of “Guacamole Queen.”  She cringes when occasionally someone asks if she gives out her recipes.  “Why wouldn’t I?” she answers. “It gives me great pleasure to share recipes for good food.”

Joan Thormann
During her last five years before retiring from Lesley, Joan ended up teaching teachers to teach online–by actually teaching them online.  If you know people who need help in this area, she shamelessly asks you to let them know they can find her book on Amazon. 
When Joan isn’t occupied with life maintenance, she paints watercolors, makes quilt tops, and listens to audiobooks. Two years ago, she started taking classes at BOLLI and enjoys learning from the SGLs and classmates.