World first for fly research

Feb 13, 2013

The University of Manchester is leading the way when it comes to fly research with the publication of the first ever basic training package to teach students and scientists how to best use the fruit fly, Drosophila, for research. It's hoped it will encourage more researchers working on a range of conditions from cancer to Alzheimer's disease to use the humble fly.

The unique scheme has been put together by Dr Andreas Prokop from the Faculty of Life Sciences alongside John Roote from the Department of Genetics at Cambridge University. A paper outlining the package has been published in the February edition of the journal G3.

The University of Manchester houses one of the biggest fly facilities in Europe, funded jointly by the University and the Wellcome Trust. It provides temperature controlled rooms for storing the many thousands of fly stocks, dedicated work spaces to sort the flies (referred to as "fly pushing") and a number of high tech microscopes for training and experiments. It is used by 13 Manchester research groups for a wide range of research from evolution to cancer and to .

Dr Prokop helped to establish the facility: "People don't realise just how useful the tiny fruit fly can be when it comes to research. Fellow scientists are often not aware of their genetic value for research. For example, about 75% of known human disease genes have a recognisable match in the genome of fruit flies which means they can be used to study the fundamental biology behind complex conditions such as epilepsy or ."

have been used for scientific research for more than a hundred years. They have allowed scientific breakthroughs in genetics, body structure and function. The first jet lag gene and the first learning gene were identified in flies as well as breakthroughs in neuroscience, such as the discovery of the first channel proteins.

Dr Prokop says: "Flies need very little space so are ideal for breeding. They develop in just two weeks and it is a simple process to follow a genetic mutation through the generations by analysing the patterns on their bristles, wings or eyes which provide easy visible markers."

Despite the flies' contribution to scientific research through the ages, including four Nobel prizes, there is a concern that fewer scientists are aware of their potential. Part of the reason for this has been a trend away from basic genetics training in schools and universities which makes it harder for newcomers to the fly.

To combat this Dr Prokop put together a training package for second year undergraduate students. Unlike any other material it assumes no prior knowledge of flies and takes students back to basics.

Together with John Roote, the manager of a fly facility in Cambridge, Dr Prokop has now taken the student manual to the next level, developing it into a four part training package for all scientists. It includes a self-study introductory manual, a short practical session on gender and marker selection, an interactive Powerpoint presentation and finally an independent training exercise in mating scheme design.

Sanjai Patel manages Manchester's fly facility and says the training package has had a real impact: "I was spending a lot of my time at the facility training students how to use the flies for their research. They would struggle with some of the basic concepts of fly research and keep coming back with questions. The training manual is self-explanatory. After they've been through it I do an intense but brief session with them to assess their understanding and then they're usually confident enough to start using the . The training package means I spend a lot less time teaching students the basics."

Dr Prokop says it's a well rounded package: "We wanted to make sure that key aspects of fly research become apparent to the newcomer right away, such as a basic appreciation of why Drosophila is used for research, the nature of the fly stocks we use, an understanding of classical genetic rules and the knowledge of the nature and use of classical genetic markers but also the use of modern transgenic technologies."

He continues: "We've had a really good response from people who've tested the training package and we're confident this will encourage more scientists to consider using the fruit fly in the future."

Explore further: 221 new species described by the California Academy of Sciences in 2014

Related Stories

Transformational fruit fly genome catalog completed

Feb 08, 2012

Scientists searching for the genomics version of the holy grail – more insight into predicting how an animal's genes affect physical or behavioral traits – now have a reference manual that should ...

Eye of a fruit fly

Oct 05, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- A tiny fruit fly's retina may hold the key to understanding the cause of the progression of Alzheimer's disease, according to a newly published study by researchers at the University of ...

Sleep switch found in fruit flies

Jun 23, 2011

Rather than count sheep, drink warm milk or listen to soothing music, many insomniacs probably wish for a switch they could flick to put themselves to sleep.

Fly genomes show natural selection and return to Africa

Oct 12, 2012

(Phys.org)—When ancestral humans walked out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago, Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies came along with them. Now the fruit flies, widely used for genetics research, are ...

Recommended for you

Ninety-eight new beetle species discovered in Indonesia

1 hour ago

Ninety-eight new species of the beetle genus Trigonopterus have been described from Java, Bali and other Indonesian islands. Museum scientists from Germany and their local counterparts used an innovative approa ...

A vegetarian carnivorous plant

Dec 19, 2014

Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, ...

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.