Basic life functions as well as the structure of genetic material are very similar throughout the animal kingdom. Therefore, invertebrate animals can be used for some scientific questions. According to the Animal Welfare Act, experiments on invertebrates such as the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster are not considered animal experiments. They therefore represent an important alternative and complementary method in biomedicine and are regularly used in basic research.
Many genes and processes are basically the same in flies and humans: 60% of the Drosophila genetic material is also found in humans and of 289 genes that can cause diseases in humans, 177 corresponding variants also exist in flies 1. This similarity to humans makes the fruit fly an important model organism for studying the genetic control of elementary life processes. Thus, with the help of these relatively simply constructed insects, some experiments with more highly organised organisms such as vertebrates can be dispensed with.
Studies at our institute, which increasingly rely on the fruit fly as a model organism, are dedicated to the investigation of molecular biological, genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that influence the development and functions of nerve cells, regulate cell differentiation during embryonic development or also control the expression of so-called "household genes".
In addition, researchers at the Institute also work with flies to learn more about the genetic networks and epigenetic regulators that are central to complex diseases such as cancer, diabetes or obesity.
Indeed, Drosophila melanogaster, as the fruit fly is known in laboratories around the world, is one of the most studied organisms in biology and has been instrumental in many groundbreaking discoveries in the fields of genetics and developmental biology.
Important findings in modern medicine are also based on foundations laid by fly research. Not only was the chromosome theory of heredity developed with the help of studies in Drosophila melanogaster (Nobel Prize to Thomas H. Morgan in 1933), but five other Nobel Prizes have gone to researchers, who made their discoveries with the help of the fruit fly - most recently the Nobel Prize in 2017 for discovering the molecular mechanisms that control the biological clock. Today, the fly also plays an increasingly important role in ageing research and in basic research on dementia.
Read more about the fruit fly as a model organism in biological research on the topic pages on the model organism fly of the Max Planck Society.
In this interactive documentary, Dr. Plamen Georgiev, head of our fly lab, gives exclusive insights into his work. Among other things, he explains how flies are fed in the lab and why they are ideal for genetic manipulation. In addition, users of the facility talk about their research with the fly and share their best "fly stories". This project was created in collaboration with students from Offenburg University of Applied Sciences: Artur Bauer, Sven Heper, Konradin Köchling and Maxim Maier.