The Portrait of a Superstar of Science – Drosophila melanogaster

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt have heard of Drosophila melanogaster, the fly that has played a key role in important discoveries about skin cancer, the innate immune system and the development of tissues, but we’ve never really given this tiny superstar of science enough prominence on this blog.  To help correct this I would like to invite our readers to hop over to the Wellcome Trust Blog, where science writer Michael Regnier has written two posts about his visit to the University of Manchester to see for himself how scientists there are using Drosophila to answer fundamental questions about animal biology.

In his first post Michael starts with a visit to the Fly Facility, and begins with a question:

For more than a hundred years, scientists have used the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) to study the fundamentals of developmental biology and genetics.

But as biological understanding and techniques have improved, we are now able to do sophisticated genetic experiments in animals further along the evolutionary scale, such as mice.

What role, then, for the fly today?”

This question is quickly answered as he learns about past contributions of Drosophila to understanding development and the innate immune system, before moving swiftly to take a closer look at how Drosophila research is increasing our knowledge of the role played by different components of the cytoskeleton – the protein scaffolding found within cells – in the development of the nervous system.

Drosophila melanogaster – a fly whose small size belies it’s great importance to biomedical research.

In part 2 Michael joins Professor Richard Baines and his colleagues to learn more about the use of Drosophila to study disease, and in particular to see how Drosophila are being used to study the function of particular genes in the regulation of the nervous system, and even to screen potential treatments for epilepsy.

Drosophila: the model model organism; the humble fruit fly with a noble (not to mention Nobel) place in the history of science. Having learned about its importance in genetics and developmental biology, I wanted to see Drosophila in action.

At a lab in Manchester, I did just that and discovered that the relevance of such research to human health can be unexpectedly direct.”

All in all it is an excellent summary of what must have been a rather hectic – though fascinating – visit to the University of Manchester.

For anyone who would like to learn even more about Drosophila in medical research, I’m adding this video that the Wellcome Trust produced a couple of years ago.

Paul Browne

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