Why Fruit Flies?

Many biomedical research efforts use mice or rats as animal models; at Genescient we focus on fruit flies (Drosophila), with a methodology of taking discoveries made using flies and then testing them on rodents and humans.

One reason is that, due to their short lifespan, it is possible to evolve many generations of fruit flies in a relatively short time period. Genescient’s long-lived fly populations are the result of experimental evolution over 30 years, which represents about 800 standard generations of fruit flies. To evolve mice over a comparable number of generations would take about 200 years. Carrying out experimental evolution over so many generations results in populations with extremely strong genetic differences from control populations, providing strikingly clean data that our statistical and AI algorithms can then analyze to make novel discoveries.

Another reason Genescient uses Drosophila is that specific pathophysiological phenotypes are readily evaluated in the fruit fly. For instance there are straightforward ways to test the strength of a fly’s cardiovascular or neurological system, and to test the impact of cardio or neuro drugs on flies.

Using fruit flies as a model organism allows us to more rapidly unravel the complexity of biological networks, many of which have similar structure and dynamics across flies, mice and humans. Thus fruit flies are an extremely powerful tool for the development of effective disease therapies.

For an example of the use of Drosophila experimental evolution to produce genome-wide differentiation, see: Genome-wide analysis of a long-term evolution experiment with Drosophila. 2010. Molly K. Burke, Joseph P. Dunham, Parvin Shahrestani, Kevin R. Thornton, Michael R. Rose & Anthony D. Long. Nature (2010) doi:10.1038/nature09352.