Why Drosophila?

The use of Drosophila melanogaster comes with many experimental advantages, allowing for the elucidation of biological properties in animals.

Drosophila melanogaster, also known as the fruit fly, has a long and storied history in the field of biological research. Some of the earliest work was led by Thomas Hunt Morgan at Columbia University in the early 1900's; this research established many basic principles of heredity, including sex-linked inheritance, epistasis, multiple alleles, and gene mapping.

Fruit flies are used in research for many important reasons:

  • History: The use of Drosophila for over 100 years has allowed researchers to thoroughly uncover the morphological, genetic, and biochemical properties of the species.
  • Small genome size: The full Drosophila genome only features four chromosomes, and the total genome size is roughly 5% that of humans.
  • Similarities to human DNA: Approximately 60% of Drosophila genes have homologs in humans.
  • Established experimental systems: Due to the rich history of Drosophila research, many systems exist to manipulate gene expression and to visualize these changes, both externally (eye color, wing shape, etc.) and internally (GFP/fluorescent protein expression).
  • Short generation time: It takes 10-14 days on average, depending on temperature and other conditions, for a fly to develop from egg to adult. 
  • Large numbers of offspring: The female fruit fly will lay roughly 750-1,500 eggs in her lifetime.
  • Easy storage: Flies are 6-7mm in size, allowing thousands to be raised simultaneously.

Research in the Kalderon lab centers on two fundamental biological systems that are common to both flies and humans:

  • Hedgehog signaling pathway: A conserved signaling pathway across animal life that can be readily studied in flies.
  • Adult stem cells: Follicle Stem Cells (FSCs), found in the fly ovary, have similar organizational properties as mammalian intestinal stem cells.

For more information, check out this recent New York Times article that highlighted the history of Drosophila research and the essential workers who braved the pandemic to keep flies alive!

Fruit Flies Are Essential to Science. So Are the Workers Who Keep Them Alive -- New York Times