Perfect for genetic studies, fruit flies share 75% of the genes that cause disease in humans. They breed quickly and it is easy to change their DNA code. The fruit fly genome contains 132 million DNA base pairs.
Using the fruit fly to dissect traumatic brain injury
Perfect for genetic studies, fruit flies share 75% of the genes that cause diseases in humans. With a malleable DNA code and the ability to breed quickly, this model organism is helping scientists understand the nuances of disease development.
When researchers revealed that the brain of late NFL player Aaron Hernandez showed signs of stage III chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease, Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Kassandra Ori-McKenney wondered if the hits Hernandez took as a tight end for the New England Patriots contributed to the athlete’s aggressive behavior and eventual suicide.
Behavioral changes, including aggression and depression, are linked to CTE, but the biochemistry behind why such behaviors arise is unclear. Using fruit flies, Ori-McKenney investigates the role of a protein called tau in the development of neurodegenerative diseases related to traumatic brain injury. According to Ori-McKenney, it’s become clear that the neurodegeneration resulting from traumatic brain injury shows a strong correlation with the expression and spread of tau throughout the brain’s circuitry.
To model the pathogenic spread of tau, Ori-McKenney uses the Drosophila genus of flies in experiments that recreate traumatic brain injury by using a custom-made device to induce blunt force trauma.
“We put the flies in a tube and we hook it up to a spring, which is fastened to a wooden board,” Ori-McKenney said. “We then pull the tube back, and let go.”
The tube slams up against a Styrofoam surface, rattling the winged occupants inside it. About four hours after causing what Ori-McKenney calls “closed-head traumatic brain injury,” the researchers use biochemical and immunofluorescence imaging techniques to monitor the origin and spread of tau in the flies’ brains.