What mutant flies can teach us about autoimmune disorders


From founding the field of genetics research to unraveling the mysteries of disease, tiny fruit flies have made a big impact on our understanding of human biology. While it may not look it, the insects share 60% of their genes with humans. Fruit flies have therefore become an important model organism for studying gene function and interactions—helping scientists explore everything from aging to cancer.

Over the course of the last century, fruit flies have become a sort of genetic road map for scientists, with new strains of the insect created with targeted genes turned off and on. Sometimes a new strain is created but the specific underlying gene mutations are unknown. Although the tumor Suzuki flies have been around for several decades, no one has ever linked the mutation to a specific gene.

"It was just such a fascinating class of mutants to me. This whole idea of self-tolerance and autoimmunity is something that I've always been really interested in trying to understand," said Nathan Mortimer, lead study author and an assistant professor of cellular immunology in the School of Biological Sciences at Illinois State University. "Particularly using a simple organism like the fruit fly to look at basic immune functions and understand what role they play in autoimmunity."


Immunogenetics Open Access