We probably all remember Drosophila melanogaster from our biology class. The tiny fruit fly was present alongside Crick and Watson’s peas in almost all genetics classes, and for good reason. As it turns out, scientists were just helped by Drosophila with a huge cancer research breakthrough by breeding fruit flies.
- Fruit flies are so intensely used in genetics research mainly because of their simple genome
- Drosophila melanogaster’s very obvious genetic mutations are also a reason for their preferred use
- A female can lay 30 to 50 eggs per day throughout its lifetime
- 75% of the genes that cause diseases in humans are also present in the fruit fly
- Cancer biology and speciation are part of the same continuum of biological processes
Scientists have been struggling for over a century to find an answer to the question why two different species of fruit flies resulted from one.
Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Washington and the University of Utah have recently discovered the gene responsible for the century old question.
The investigations started when researchers discovered that when bred with a different species, Drosophila offspring were only female.
The scientists, Dr. Harmit Malik, of the Basic Sciences Division at Fred Hutch, and fly geneticist Dr. Nitin Phadnis, assistant professor and Mario R. Capecchi Endowed Chair in Biology at the University of Utah, concluded that they would need seven specifically bred males in order to discover the gene.
A year and a half later, after breeding 55,000 mutant flies, they ended up with 330,000 daughter flies, as well as the 7 males they needed.
The researchers found mutations in the same gene when testing all seven of the resulting males, and concluded that that was the gene they were looking for.
The gene, known as gfzf, is a cell-cycle checkpoint gene, and is generally responsible for the proper regulation of cell division.
In the case of the flies, it plays a role in speciation, so mutating the gene resulted in the individuals’ ability to have male offspring. In the case of humans, however, the gene is responsible for causing cancer when it mutates.
So, as the researchers put it, the discovery is extremely important for cancer research, as it points out the gene responsible for the rapid growth and multiplication of the cancer cells.
Experts are going to start work immediately on further analyzing the gene, now that they know its mutation is responsible for the appearance of cancer cells.
Image source: Wikimedia