Sunday, 29 April 2012

Fruit fly bearing Fruit for Science

Fruit fly bearing Fruit for Science

Figure 1: Drosophila melanogaster (Press, 2012)
Flies – you may know them as those pestering, inconsiderate harassing little insects constantly steering into our food supplies. Who would’ve known they may be one of science’s most valuable assets.  Fruit Flies in particular, are the world’s worst pest of fruits and vegetables - economically uncharitable beings causing millions of dollars’ worth of economic damage. However we mustn’t forget the gifts these little creatures provide us.   Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly has historically been the subject of extensive experimentation. Only recently has this eukaryote genome been fully sequenced, sharing high correspondence with human genetic instructions. This pest allows scientists to ethically experiment on topics out of the question on human subjects people. On 13th March 2012, an article labelled “Studying Drosophila Advances Research into Human Diseases” was published. Three illnesses; Ataxia-telangiectasia, Rett Syndrome and Kidney Stones are discussed regarding their current progress.

Figure 2: Ataxia-telangiectasia symptom - Dilated blood vessels
Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) is a “rare childhood neurological disorder that causes degeneration in the part of the brain that controls motor movements and speech.” (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2011)  By using genetic screens to mutate the flies, scientists can draw correlations demonstrating the debilitating effects of A-T on the Drosophila.  This was seen   when the mutated flies couldn’t climb up the sides of their vial habitats. From these observations, it showed that glial cells are primarily affected rather than the neurons that the glia support. (Genetics Society of America, 2012) However the findings were also indicative of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as a distinctive immune response activated in the comprised glia. (Genetics Society of America, 2012) So despite experimenting for Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) it has now assisted with the development and treatment of diseases concerning the glia.

Figure 3: Rett Syndrome (sanödox, 2011)
 Rett syndrome is a “childhood neurodevelopmental disorder that affects females almost exclusively”; affecting muscle tone, slow development and compulsive motor functions. (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2011)  In the experiment, the human gene MeCP2 is modified into the Drosophila’s genome which regulates the amount of protein production.  Protein production is associated with the X chromosome so either a deficit or excess can cause Rett Syndrome.  MeCP2 exhibits different effects for the fruit fly but associations can still be drawn to humans.  Behaviours such as aggression and sleep patterns were altered in the Drosophila.  This may therefore help diagnose numerous diseases concerning behaviour and motor functions.

Figure 4: Kidney Stones  
(Remedies for Kidney Stones, 2010)

A kidney stone is a “hard, crystalline mineral material formed within the kidney or urinary tract” which “commonly causes blood in urine and often severe pain in the abdomen, flank, or groin.” (Melisa Conrad Stoppler) Nowadays, treatments are already available for this disease but if we know the genetic causes we can prevent its development.   “Rosy”, the name of a mutant fly has recently been found showing the rare human inborn error of metabolism called xanthinuria type 1 along with calcium oxalate kidney stones.  (Genetics Society of America, 2012)  To cause the development of kidney stones in humans is horribly unethical however scientists can now search for chemical compounds to interfere with formation of these obstructions and test for cures.  

Without Drosophila melanogaster, such recent advances in genetics would not have been possible.  This pesky organism is a priceless resource for humankind, sharing manageable chromosomes and around 2/3 of our genetics.  It is economically viable and an ethical alternative opposed to exploiting humans.  Possibilities are infinite when utilising this resource for countless experiments as it is beneficial for understanding diseases.   With a strong research community sharing reagents, disease management and cures will be the outcome. Drosophila melanogaster is an invaluable test subject to humankind.

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. (2007, April 23). Exotic fruit flies. Retrieved March 17, 2012, from Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry:
Genetics Society of America. (2012, March 13). Studying Drosophila Advances Research Into Human Diseases. Retrieved March 15, 2012, from Medical News Today:
Melisa Conrad Stoppler. (n.d.). Kidney Stones (Renal Stones, Nephrolithiasis). Retrieved March 14, 2012, from Medicine Net:
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2011, November 25). NINDS Ataxia Telangiectasia Information Page. Retrieved March 14, 2012, from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2011, August 16). NINDS Rett Syndrome Information Page. Retrieved March 14, 2012, from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:
Oxford Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2012, from Oxford Medicine:
Press, W. F. (2012, January 12). Retrieved March 17, 2012, from Pest Control CEU's:
Remedies for Kidney Stones. (2010, September 23). Kidney Stone Fragments. Retrieved March 17, 2012, from Remedies for Kidney Stones:
sanödox. (2011, July 8). What is Rett syndrome? Retrieved March 17, 2012, from sanödox:

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