Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Genetics and Drosophila

On Wednesday, September 3, the second day of school, we travelled to the Barolo Lab at the University of Michigan for our first look at genetics and natural selection.

The Barolo Lab looks at genetics in fruit flies, aka drosophila melanogaster.
Their ten-day life span is convenient: it means that you can track the development of introduced genes from birth to death.

Fruit flies are also handy because most of their genetic information is the same as humans'.
For example, 75% of the genes that cause disease are common between them and us.

Dr. Lisa Johnson, our teacher and guide,
shows off one of the means of tracking individual genes in fruit flies: radiation.

Here, many variations of flies are labelled and stored. To look at them, you knock them out with carbon dioxide. We did not see a single fruit fly buzzing around the lab.

You manipulate the flies with a paintbrush.

Another way to track particular genes is to inject the fly with a gene that manifests luminescence. We get it from fluorescent jellyfish. It comes in green and red, like Christmas.

Before our next visit, we will bone up on gene expression--in particular, enhancers, promoters, and hox genes. We'll put this in the context of natural selection. And then we will inject genetic material into flies, rather than simply looking at them.

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