Using drosophila melanogaster to discover human disease genes: An educational primer for use with "amyotrophic lateral sclerosis modifiers in drosophila reveal the phospholipase d pathway as a potential therapeutic target"

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Biological Sciences


Since the dawn of the 20th century, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has been used as a model organism to understand the nature of genes and how they control development, behavior, and physiology. One of the most powerful experimental approaches employed in Drosophila is the forward genetic screen. In the 21st century, genome-wide screens have become popular tools for identifying evolutionarily conserved genes involved in complex human diseases. In the accompanying article "Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Modifiers in Drosophila Reveal the Phospholipase D Pathway as a Potential Therapeutic Target, "Kankel and colleagues describe a forward genetic modifier screen to discover factors that contribute to the severe neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This primer briefly traces the history of genetic screens in Drosophila and introduces students to ALS. We then provide a set of guided reading questions to help students work through the data presented in the research article. Finally, several ideas for literature-based research projects are offered as opportunities for students to expand their appreciation of the potential scope of genetic screens. The primer is intended to help students and instructors thoroughly examine a current study that uses forward genetics in Drosophila to identify human disease genes.



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At the time of publication, Surya Jyoti Banerjee was affiliated with Yeshiva University.