”Much of the research we do is applicable to the human genome.” — Professor Michele Markstein, regarding the importance of working with Drosophila.
Dr. Markstein, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, expanded on the vital importance of Drosophila, also known as the common fruit fly, in molecular research at the fall semester's second Pizza and Prof, "Why Fruit Flies May Someday Save Your Life: A Discussion of Model Organisms, Nobel Prizes, and Cancer."
"In order to study the function of every gene in the genome, Dr. Markstein explained, it's best to study what happens when you "break" or interfere with them, one by one. And, one of the best organisms to do this in is the fruit fly." But why study fruit flies rather than the typical use of lab mice?
Due to genome sequencing, we now appreciate on a level like never before just how similar fruit flies are to us on a molecular level. The advantage to using flies [in research] is that we can more easily figure out the function of conserved genes in fruit flies because its easier to cause mutations in them.
Dr. Markstein's laboratory uses Drosophila to understand the function of genes in stem cells. Her lab studies the stem cells which maintain the adult Drosophila intestine, and that interestingly express many of the same genes as the stem cells in our intestine. Research by undergraduates in the laboratory has led to the recent discovery that Drosophila stem cells exhibit similar levels of drug resistance as found in mammalian stem cells. According to Dr. Markstein, this may open the door to finding new ways to inhibit drug resistance in stem cell based diseases such as cancers.
While perhaps perceived as unusual to those of us who don't normally think about biological research, the use of fruit flies in the lab is not new. Research in fruit flies has even been recognized with Nobel Prizes, including this year's Nobel in Physiology or Medicine, awarded to three scientists who discovered the molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythms, using Drosophila as a model organism.
In addition to learning more about genome sequencing in animals and humans, students also learned the best ways to find work in research labs in their fields. Professor Markstein stressed that an important step in getting a position is to write a compelling cover letter. Professor Markstein inspired students to turn over all rocks, by all means, in the lab.
To read more about Professor Markstein's research, click here.