Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientists Study Human Diseases in Flies

13.03.2012
More than two-thirds of human genes have counterparts in the well-studied fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, so although it may seem that humans don’t have much in common with flies, the correspondence of our genetic instructions is astonishing. In fact, there are hundreds of inherited diseases in humans that have Drosophila counterparts.

At the ongoing Genetics Society of America’s 53rd Annual Drosophila Research Conference in Chicago, several scientific investigators shared their knowledge of some of these diseases, including ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), a neurodegenerative disorder; Rett Syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder; and kidney stones, a common health ailment. All are the subject of ongoing research using the Drosophila model system.

Andrew Petersen, a graduate student in Dr. David Wassarman’s laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, discussed his experiments with a fly model of the rare childhood disease ataxia-telangiectasia. A-T causes cell death within the brain, poor coordination, characteristic spidery blood vessels that show through the skin, and susceptibility to leukemias and lymphomas. A-T generally results in a life expectancy of only 25 years.

A-T is normally lethal in flies, but Mr. Petersen induced a mutant that develops symptoms only when the environmental temperature rises above a certain level, allowing Mr. Petersen to control the lethality by varying the fly’s environment. The mutant flies lose their ability to climb up the sides of their vial habitats –- a sign of neurodegeneration -- and die prematurely. Their glial cells are primarily affected, rather than the neurons that the glia support. In addition, an innate immune response is activated in the compromised glia, a scenario reminiscent of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. “We are one step closer to knowing how these diseases occur and possibly how we can treat them,” Mr. Petersen concluded.

Sarah Certel, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Montana-Missoula, works with flies that have been altered to include the human gene MeCP2. This gene controls how neurons use many other genes, and the amount of the protein that it encodes must be within a specific range for the brain to develop normally. Too little of the protein and Rett syndrome results, a disorder on the X chromosome, which exclusively affects females in childhood. (Males with this mutation are generally miscarried or are stillborn.) It causes a constellation of symptoms including characteristic hand-wringing, autism, seizures, cognitive impairment, and loss of mobility. Yet too much of the protein causes similar problems.

In flies, altered levels of the MeCP2 protein affect sleep and aggression. For flies and most model organisms, sleep is inferred as the absence of activity during the day and night. To study sleep, Dr. Certel conducted “actograms” for individual flies. “The actogram records the activities of individually housed flies when they cross an infrared beam,” she explained. The flies’ sleep became fragmented, delayed, and shortened. “We’re studying the link between the cellular changes and behaviors,” she added.

Switching from the brain to the urinary system, it was noted that “Drosophila get kidney stones too” began Julian Dow, Ph.D., professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Glasgow, United Kingdom. The fly version of a kidney is much simpler in design, a quartet of Malpighian tubules that are conveniently transparent.

Dr. Dow discussed a fly mutant called “rosy,” discovered a century ago, that corresponds to the rare human inborn error of metabolism called xanthinuria type 1, as well as a diet-induced blockage that corresponds to the more common human condition of calcium oxalate kidney stones. In time-lapse video, Dr. Dow showed stones appearing and growing in the Malpighian tubule.

“This was the first time in history that we saw kidney stones form -- something that you cannot ethically do in humans,” he said. His research group, in collaboration with Dr. Michael Romero at the Mayo Institute, is now searching for chemical compounds that interfere with the formation of stones and their tendency to accrete into painful obstructions. They’ve already found a way to block a gene responsible for transporting the oxalate, slowing stone formation. With time, this work could help reduce the 250,000 emergency room admissions for kidney stones in the USA annually and the more than $2 billion in health care costs for treating them.

These were only three of several human diseases discussed at the Drosophila Conference. Others included oxidative stress, cancer linked to diabetes, amyloid build-up in Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and muscular dystrophy. There are so many human diseases that have Drosophila counterparts that they are listed in a database called Homophila (http://superfly.ucsd.edu/homophila/). Given the number that exist, we are certain to be learning more about our health from the fly in the years ahead.

ABOUT THE GSA DROSOPHILA RESEARCH CONFERENCE: At least 1,500 researchers attend the annual GSA Drosophila Research Conference to share the latest research using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and other insect species. Many of findings from these model organisms have broad application for the study of human genetic traits and diseases. For more information about the conference, see www.drosophila-conf.org/2012/.

ABOUT GSA: Founded in 1931, the Genetics Society of America (GSA) is the professional membership organization for scientific researchers, educators, bioengineers, bioinformaticians and others interested in the field of genetics. Its nearly 5,000 members work to advance knowledge in the basic mechanisms of inheritance, from the molecular to the population level. The GSA is dedicated to promoting research in genetics and to facilitating communication among geneticists worldwide through its conferences, including the biennial conference on Model Organisms to Human Biology, an interdisciplinary meeting on current and cutting edge topics in genetics research, as well as annual and biennial meetings that focus on the genetics of particular organisms, including C. elegans, Drosophila, fungi, mice, yeast, and zebrafish. GSA publishes GENETICS, a leading journal in the field and a new online, open-access publication, G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics. For more information about GSA, please visit www.genetics-gsa.org. Also follow GSA on Facebook at facebook.com/GeneticsGSA and on Twitter @GeneticsGSA.

Phyllis Edelman | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.genetics-gsa.org
http://www.drosophila-conf.org/2012/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht The irresistible fragrance of dying vinegar flies
16.08.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

nachricht How protein islands form
15.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

Im Focus: Scientists improve forecast of increasing hazard on Ecuadorian volcano

Researchers from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and the Instituto Geofisico--Escuela Politecnica Nacional (IGEPN) of Ecuador, showed an increasing volcanic danger on Cotopaxi in Ecuador using a powerful technique known as Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR).

The Andes region in which Cotopaxi volcano is located is known to contain some of the world's most serious volcanic hazard. A mid- to large-size eruption has...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New thruster design increases efficiency for future spaceflight

16.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Transporting spin: A graphene and boron nitride heterostructure creates large spin signals

16.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

A new method for the 3-D printing of living tissues

16.08.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>