The Legacy of Drosophila GeneticsFrom 'defining the gene' to 'analyzing genome function'

Launched September 2008 Updated February 2014 30 lectures
Prof. Ethan Bier
University of California, San Diego, USA

Ever since Thomas H. Morgan identified the white eye-pigment mutation at the turn of the twentieth century, Drosophila melanogaster has led the way in illuminating many basic biological processes. Morgan and his talented entourage, including Allan Sturtevant, Calvin Bridges, and Hermann Muller, created the first genetic maps based on recombination... read morefrequencies, proposed the chromosomal theory of heredity, and showed that X-rays induce mutations.

As molecular biological tools became available in the 1970s and 1980s, Drosophila again had a critical role in defining how genes act in time and space to control development. A remarkable finding of these latter studies was that many genes involved in establishing the primary body axes, cell types, and organ systems have been highly conserved during evolution. This conservation of basic cellular processes has spawned exploration of other highly conserved biological processes including mechanisms of human disease, learning and memory, aging, and evolution of novelty. Now, a century after the initial studies of Morgan, with complete gene sequences for many organisms in hand, Drosophila is poised once again to address important genetic questions on a whole-genome scale.

Because many core biological processes had already evolved in the most recent common ancestor of flies and humans, it is possible to exploit the powerful molecular and genetic tools available in Drosophila to study these processes in great detail. Models based on these studies in Drosophila can then be validated in vertebrate systems such as mice, fish, or frogs.

The goal of this series is make a broad audience of researchers in academics and industry aware of the landmark discoveries that have been made by research into the biology of Drosophila and to appreciate the great potential of this well developed system in areas pertaining to their own research interests. An important objective of this series is to open channels of communication between researchers in diverse fields and Drosophila geneticists studying similar or related problems. Such cross-fertilization between fields has often led to ground breaking work and to the founding of new sub-disciplines.