Fruit fly study digs deeper into poorly understood details of forming embryos

Dec 21, 2010

Using fruit flies as a model to study embryo formation, scientists report in Nature Cell Biology that molecular breakdown of a protein called Bicoid is vital to normal head-to-tail patterning of the insect's offspring.

Published online by the journal Dec. 19, the study shows how Bicoid is targeted for molecular degradation by a newly identified protein the researchers named Fates-shifted (Fsd). Without the interaction between Bicoid and Fsd, fruit fly embryos are improperly formed and misshaped, according to scientists at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

The findings are another example of how genetic and molecular studies of in (known formally as Drosophila melanogaster) help inform medical research into human disease and . Over half of the genes known to cause disease in humans have a recognizable match in the fruit fly's .

"Although there is no direct medical impact, this study has critical relevance for medical research into birth defects," said Jun Ma, Ph.D., senior investigator and a researcher in the divisions of Biomedical Bioinformatics and Development Biology. "For tissues in the developing embryo to form properly, cells have to know what their proper locations are. This study looks at the location cues cells receive in early Drosophila embryos."

The cues are delivered through a process that scientists still don't completely understand. It's controlled by molecules called morphogens, which form concentration gradients along the head-to-tail axis, or other axes, of developing embryos. Scientists think these gradients enable cells to know their locations when cells evaluate whether the they receive are above or below specific threshold levels. The cells' knowledge of their locations leads them to choose different developmental paths and form distinct tissue types in embryos.

"There are really two sides of the morphogen problem," Dr. Ma explained. "The first is how such concentration gradients are formed in the first place, and the second is how cells respond to such gradients. Our current study looks into the first question at a molecular level."

Bicoid is a morphogen protein critical to fruit fly embryos in forming the head and thorax. The new findings suggest the protein's molecular breakdown is important for establishing a correct concentration gradient and the formation of appropriate tissues at their correct embryo locations.

Explore further: Genomes of malaria-carrying mosquitoes sequenced

Related Stories

Tuning in on cellular communication in the fruit fly

Feb 18, 2009

In their ongoing study of the processes involved in embryonic development in fruit flies, researchers at WPI's Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park have identified the function of a protein that sticks ...

Model may offer better understanding of embryonic development

Mar 09, 2010

A mathematical model developed at Purdue University can predict complex signaling patterns that could help scientists determine how stem cells in an embryo later become specific tissues, knowledge that could be used to understand ...

Gene Mutation Leads to 'Broken Hearts'

Jul 21, 2006

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified a group of fruit fly gene mutations responsible for "broken hearts" in the embryonic stages of development, a discovery that could help identify genes that cause ...

Recommended for you

Genomes of malaria-carrying mosquitoes sequenced

6 hours ago

Nora Besansky, O'Hara Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame and a member of the University's Eck Institute for Global Health, has led an international team of scientists in sequencing ...

How calcium regulates mitochondrial carrier proteins

Nov 26, 2014

Mitochondrial carriers are a family of proteins that play the key role of transporting a chemically diverse range of molecules across the inner mitochondrial membrane. Mitochondrial aspartate/glutamate carriers are part of ...

Team conducts unprecedented analysis of microbial ecosystem

Nov 26, 2014

An international team of scientists from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and The Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) have completed a first-of-its-kind microbial analysis of a biological ...

Students create microbe to weaken superbug

Nov 25, 2014

A team of undergraduate students from the University of Waterloo have designed a synthetic organism that may one day help doctors treat MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant superbug.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.