Using The Fruit Fly To Study The Brain

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A-level Biology By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Biology » A-level Biology
Last updated: 09/11/2017
Tags: a-level biology, a-level human biology

The human brain is the most complicated thing in the known universe. Therefore studying it and trying to understand how it controls human behavior, i.e. who we are - is quite difficult! Thankfully the humble fruit fly makes a Neuroscientist's job in understanding brain a lot easier.

You may see the fruit fly as that annoying little pest that appears in summer and hovers around trying to eat your fruit. This may be true, but importantly they do indeed have a brain. And a quite complicated brain at that! The fly brain may only have ~100,000 neurons, however this simplified nervous system produces many of the complex behaviors of our own.

For example flies need to eat, drink, sleep, move - they even show emotions. The simplicity of the fly nervous system allows us to dissect and study in detail the areas of the brain that are involved in these processes.

But are flies not so different to humans? Well yes - but not at the genetic level. The fruit fly was the first organism to have their whole genome sequenced and it turns out flies have their own versions of human genes. For example you can replace a fly gene which is important for the development of the fly's brain, with the human version, and the fly's brain will develop normally (of course they do not develop a human brain!). In fact this year's Noble Prize in Biology was awarded for insights into how the human internal biological clock works - all the work was done in flies!

What is really important is that flies have a copy of around ~70% of the genes that cause human diseases. This has allowed the little fruit fly to became a powerful tool for understanding the molecular basis of human diseases.

So next time you see a fly hovering around your fruit in the summer, don't just squash it! 

Dan Solomon A-level Biology Tutor (South East London)

About The Author

Hi! My name is Dan, I have recently submitted my PhD in Molecular Neuroscience at King's College London. I am passionate about teaching science and would love to help you out with any tuition you might need!

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