Drosophila in bio–medical science

Drosophila melanogaster (Diptera: Drosophilidae) is a small fly, about 3mm long, commonly known as the fruit fly. They are cosmopolitan, human commensal, which originated in sub-Saharan Africa and today inhabit all continents except Antarctica. In nature, associated primarily with rotting fruits where they feed on yeast, bacteria, and plant matter within ripe. Fruit flies are generalists and use a variety of fruits and vegetables for nutrition, life and reproduction.

Ever since T. H. Morgan, in the early 1900s, began his research using Drosophila as a model organism, this little fly has gained an important place in research on fundamental animal biology. Apart from research in the field of genetics and behaviour, this fly has an important place in research related to genomics, development, physiology, ecology, and evolution, but also in biomedical research. Over the years, this fly has been responsible for even 6 Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine:

What makes D. melanogaster such good models?

In the past years, D. melanogaster is a valuable model in the creation of animal models of human disease. It is known that about 60% of human genes and 75% of human disease genes have homologs in D. melanogaster. The fruit fly is increasingly used in biomedical research, especially when it comes to complex disorders, like mental or neurological illness, heart disease, obesity, and cancer. Drosophila has an important place in research related to Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorders, Fragile X syndrome, spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1), Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease (PD), epileptic encephalopathy, phosphoribosyl pyrophosphate synthetase (PRPS)-associated disorders, the transcription and nucleotide excision repair factor TFIIH-related diseases, central nervous system disorders associated with glial defects, multi sex combs (mxc)-associated lymphoma, alcohol use disorder, maturity-onset diabetes of the young type 2 (MODY-2), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) and infectious diseases.

Loss-of-function alleles have been identified for near to 60% of genes, of which 77% are orthologs to human genes. Mutations were most often induced by chemicals and radiation. In recent years, transgenic technology has expanded the experimental range of use of Drosophila, allowing human genes to be introduced into flies. On the one hand, this allowed us to obtain information about how human gene products, mostly proteins, can contribute to the improvement of the mutant phenotype of flies, on the other hand, the expression of human disease alleles in flies often mimics disease pathology. This is possible due to the high evolutionary conservation of genetic and cellular signalling pathways in flies and humans.

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