About 75% of known human disease genes have a recognisable match in the genome of fruit flies. To the naked eye Drosophila melanogaster looks like any other fly. There are wings, a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. But beneath these external structures is a genome that has provided scientists with a wealth of knowledge about genetics, diseases, and patterns of inheritance. Despite the obvious morphological differences fruit fly and humans share many molecular, cellular, and behavioural similarities. In fact in an interview with BBC News Online, the Drosophila Genome Project’s Professor Gerry Rubin, from the University of California, Berkeley, said this about our friend the fruit fly. “They can become addicted to alcohol, cocaine and other drugs. They have a wake-sleep cycle like humans do. They have complicated rituals of behaviour.”
(Source: Human Genetics and the Fruit Fly Drosophila Melanogaster, by: Paul Arnold, Updated Nov 25, 2009, http://www.brighthub.com/science/genetics/articles/26242.aspx )
There is a lot of reseach going on around the world about this little animals. Solvin’s story on fruit flies features the research work from Dr. Barry Dickson, Research Institute of Molecular Pathology GmbH (IMP), Vienna, Austria. Dr. Barry Dickson uses molecular genetic techniques to study the function of neural circuits in Drosophila. His goal is to understand how information processing in defined neural circuits generates complex animal behaviours. As a model system, he focuses on the fly’s mating behaviours. These behaviours are robust, adaptive, and particularly amenable to genetic analysis. Working with flies has the great advantage that genetic tools can be used to identify and manipulate the relevant neurons and circuits in the brain. With these tools, it is possible to establish causal relationships between genes, cellular biochemistry, circuit function, and animal behaviour.
Some of Solvins’s pictures show wild fruit flies as they can be naturally found outside or around your private fruit bowl:
All other fruit flies are lab flies and have been genetically manipulated. There is the “wild type” fruit fly which looks like its free ranging relatives, but actually is not the same. Most of Solvins’s images showing behaviour are taken from individuals of that type. Some examples for different behaviour are:
Genetic markers are commonly used in Drosophila research, for example within balancer chromosomes or P-element inserts, and most phenotypes are easily identifiable either with the naked eye or under a microscope. Solvin photographed animals where you can see those markers. One animal can show more than one marker. Here is a list of markers he photographed:
The mission of the Vienna Drosophila RNAi Center is to promote scientific discoveries by facilitation systematic analysis of gene function in Drosophila using in vivo transgenic RNAi technology. The library comprises 22,247 transgenic Drosophila strains, each containing an inducible UAS-RNAi construct against a single protein coding gene. 12,251 genes, or 88.2% of the Drosophila genome, are represented in this collection.
There are some images showing the work at the Vienna Drosophila RNAi Center (VDRC):