In November, Mackay received the North Carolina Award, the state's highest civilian honor.

// Dr. Trudy MacKay

Solving the puzzles in our genes

Inside a lab at NC State, hundreds of fruit flies are up to no good. In one set of test tubes, 30 of them are falling down drunk. Nearby, dozens more are getting into food fights. It’s the kind of behavior we usually ascribe to a poor upbringing. But, says Dr. Trudy Mackay, the key to complex traits like aggression and alcohol tolerance may lie in the flies’ genes.

And in ours.

Mackay was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2010 for research that examines how physical and behavioral traits are affected by genes and the environment. Since all organisms have similar genetic systems, her work with fruit flies could lead to advances in the treatment of human diseases. It could also help doctors develop treatments tailored to individual patients based on their genomic profile.

In November, Mackay received the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor. She is a professor of genetics in NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.