Friday, August 10, 2012

Wake Forest fruit fly research might change diabetes treatment

When you base your research career on something as minuscule as the period at the end of this sentence, you might have to deal with a questioning look or two.

And when you tell people that little period – a fruit fly brain – is wired in the same way as their brain, the reactions can get intense.

Erik Johnson, an associate professor in biology at Wake Forest University who studies fruit flies, says he gets two responses.

“One is complete disbelief, to the point of almost being angered by it. I think that’s unfortunate, because humans could stand to be a little more humble,” he said.

“Others are just sort of like, wow, but with an interest – open to the idea that brains are brains, and they all do similar things. Complexity doesn’t stem from having different genes or special nerve cells. The basic biophysical, biochemical makeup is the same. The difference in complexity is in the number of cells. Why flies are so simple is that they have approximately 100,000 neurons versus the approximately 11 billion in humans.”

Johnson’s latest study appears in the October issue of the Genetics, which is available online now. In it, he and his research team use the fruit fly, Drosophila, to look at an enzyme called AMP-activated kinase and its role in signaling the hormone that elevates the level of sugar in the blood.

Those findings could be key to developing new treatments for diabetes and aiding in all sorts of metabolic research, including weight-loss drugs. Read more.

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