Drosophila fruit flies are commonly used to model neurodegeneration.

Drosophila fruit flies are commonly used to study various biological processes and to model human diseases.

If we look at the history of model organisms in basic science research, one of the first models we stumble upon is the fruit fly, or Drosophila melanogaster. Since its inception as an experimental organism in the laboratory in 1910 by Thomas Hunt Morgan, fruit fly research has led to many groundbreaking discoveries. Morgan’s original publication in the journal Science titled ‘Sex limited inheritance in Drosophila’ was anecdotal of an extensive study on fly mutants using classical genetics that eventually led to the chromosome theory of inheritance. This discovery among many others laid the foundation for model organism research in experimental science.

The power of a model organism that was first felt through understanding inheritance of genetic traits has now spread its branches into a multi-dimensional sphere of translational research to understand a plethora of human diseases. I wonder, how difficult it would have been to understand a natural phenomenon without the existence or introduction of flies, worms, and mice as experimental model organisms. Yet, this point was reiterated and emphasized through a fantastic talk delivered by Dr. Imilce Rodriguez-Fernandez, a postdoctoral research fellow from the Jasper lab, as part of the model organism seminar series organized by the Buck Postdoctoral Association. Imilce completed her PhD at UCLA on intracellular protein trafficking using Drosophila as a model. Her current postdoctoral work in Dr. Henri Jasper’s lab also focuses on the fly, specifically fly intestinal stem cells. The title of her seminar was “An introduction to the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster – a century old model organism”.

Postdoc Imilce Rodriguez-Fernandez from Dr. Henri Jasper's lab.

Postdoc Imilce Rodriguez-Fernandez from Dr. Henri Jasper’s lab.

Imilce’s seminar covered a wide spectrum of information ranging from fly culture to strategies for making transgenic flies. Scientists who don’t work with flies gathered a new perspective on the advantages and disadvantages of this model organism. Imilce also listed the ’10 reasons’ about why you should consider the fly as a model organism for your research. The talk covered fly history, culture techniques, genetics and its application to study aging and age-related diseases. Some of the tools she emphasized were the GAL4/UAS driver that enables tissue specific expression, generation of mosaics to study cell-autonomous functions and the use of transposable elements to generate mutants. Application of these tools in vivo unleashes the power of this model system and reminds us how elegantly these techniques can be used to answer many complex questions that would have otherwise been impossible. That’s when we weigh the utility of one model organism over another and make our best choice depending on the question in mind. No doubt the Buck model organism seminars help to serve this purpose.

Some of the useful resources mentioned in her talk are as follows:

Imilce concluded her talk by pointing out how important genes and pathways are conserved between flies and other well-studied model organisms such as worms and mice. Needless to say, the insights from such a model organism could be extensively used in translational research to understand complex human diseases. Yet another reason to adopt fly as an experimental model for the purpose of your research!