I never worked with (or thought a lot about) fruit flies. At least until I moved to Montreal and I met Dr. Chiara Gamberi.
Chiara and I work in the same Biochemistry Department of Université de Montréal. There are at least two things that bring us together: we share common roots (we are both originally from sunny Italy) and a very deep love and passion for science. However, we also belong to two very different fields: I work with bacteria most of the times, she works with fruit flies.
Most of you will associate the name Drosophila melanogaster (also known as fruit fly) with the annoying fly hovering over a glass of wine during a warm summer dinner in the garden. But Drosophila is much more than this: it is widely used as a research organism in the laboratory. Fruit flies were first cultured in the laboratory in 1901 and are nowadays one of the most intensively studied organisms in the world.
There are several reasons why this organism is so interesting in research, among which:
- great fertility of the female, which can produce up to 100 eggs per day when at peak
- relatively short egg-adult life cycle (10 days)
- easy cultivation conditions on any source of yeast
- minimal space required for growth
- only four pairs of chromosomes (which makes up for a much more straightforward genetic case study, if compared with the 23 chromosomes in humans)
Intrigued by these tiny but complex organisms, I decided to talk more with the “fruit fly expert”. Chiara volunteered to share a bit of her knowledge. A short interview follows, where she kindly gives us some fun facts about this extraordinary form of life:
- What are fruit flies?
Chiara: Fruit flies, also known as Drosophila, are known for their occasional appearance in our kitchens when fruits over-ripen in summer.
- Why fruit flies?
Chiara: Fruit flies may be quite tiny and look very dissimilar to us. However, our genetic makeup is quite alike. Not only are the majority of our genes also found in fruit fly DNA, but the relationships between most gene products are conserved, making our biological functions quite similar and usually more streamlined in fruit flies. This is the reason Drosophila has been widely researched for over 100 years to understand how our organism functions normally and how its malfunction can lead to disease.
- Some recent discoveries, or practical examples you would like to share with us?
Chiara: Have you ever remembered something from the past when smelling something like, for example, a delicacy that your grandmother used to prepare in a special and unique way? How do we associate memories with odour cues? Two researchers from the University of Houston, Shixing Zhang and Gregg Roman , following a study with Drosophila reported recently in the Current Biology journal that special nerve cells, called gamma lobe neurons are responsible for forming olfactory memories, both short and long-term. These nerve cells require the activity of a protein, G(o), that promotes the formation of the memory trace and the associative memories. These scientists hope their work will contribute to understanding how we integrate sensory information and learning.
Hoping to have attracted your attention towards this different side of science, there is nothing left to do, but to thank Chiara for sharing her passion with us. She certainly awoke in me a new interest towards fruit flies research and the significant impact it can have on our lives.
Hige, T., Turner, G. (2015). Learning: The Good, the Bad, and the Fly. Neuron, 86(2), 343–345. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2015.04.012
Zhang, S., & Roman, G. (2013). Presynaptic Inhibition of Gamma Lobe Neurons Is Required for Olfactory Learning in Drosophila. Current Biology, 23 (24), 2519–2527. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2013.10.043
Reeve, E. C. R., & Black, I. (2001). Encyclopedia of Genetics. Fitzroy Dearborn.