We use fruit flies, also known as Drosophila, as “living test tubes” for our studies. Fruit flies provide a simple system for studying how genes function in the context of a whole animal, and are amenable to genetic studies. We share most of our genes with fruit flies, including genes responsible for diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative disorders. Fruit flies breed quickly (they have a generation time of 10 days), can be kept in large numbers, and are cheap and easy to maintain and feed. Fruit flies have been used in science for more than one hundred years. The ease with which they can be manipulated, in conjunction with the knowledge and tools that have accumulated over this period enable cutting-edge research. The complete sequence of the fruit fly’s DNA was released in 2000, providing valuable information that accelerated scientific studies.
Our lab uses fruit flies to study an important collection of genes that are also present in people and are involved in development and disease.
The collection of genes we study encode proteins that constitute the Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) signalling pathway. In your body all the cells must communicate to work together, and signalling pathways help to do this. The BMP signalling pathway is crucial for many processes including development of various tissues, formation of blood vessels, bone healing, and maintenance of stem cells. We can determine when genes of the BMP pathway are turned on during development of the fruit fly, and what can happen when things go wrong. We also study collections of stem cells found within the adult fruit fly, and analyse how the BMP pathway affects them.
We enjoy promoting science outreach, and several members of our research group are STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) ambassadors. We have been active participants in the Manchester Science Festivals, Faculty of Life Sciences Open Days, Manchester Museum Body Experiences, University of Manchester Welcome to the Matrix events, and one member of our group led a weekly after school science club at the Manchester Grammar School.