Disease-related studies in the fly model

If the goal is human disease-related studies, why do functional genomics in Drosophila?

Flies provide

  • a simple, low-redundancy, well-annotated genome
  • all major signaling pathways conserved (Hh, Toll, Hippo, etc.)
  • best understood model of insect vectors of diseases (e.g. mosquitoes) and insect pests
  • proven model of human diseases including cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, congenital disorders, kidney stones, neuronal injury, behavioral disorders, and more

Many researchers use our technologies to to uncover new findings relevant to disease and potential drug targets. We welcome inquiries from non-Drosophila researchers looking to connect with specific expertise and resources. We also recommend our fly models of human diseases blog.

Our HuDis-TRiP fly stocks page lists RNAi fly stocks targeting fly orthologs of human disease-associated genes. Learn more about the HuDis-TRiP project at this page.

See links below to relevant online tools, reagents, publications, and more.

Online tools


Graphical image of tissue culture, fly pushing, and computer, and the team of people who work with them

DRSC-Biomedical Technology Research Resource

October 21, 2019

We are pleased to announce that we have been funded by NIH NIGMS to form the Drosophila Research & Screening Center-Biomedical Technology Research Resource (DRSC-BTRR). The P41-funded DRSC-BTRR (N. Perrimon, PI; S. Mohr, Co-I) builds upon and extends past goals of the Drosophila RNAi Screening Center.

As the DRSC-BTRR, we are working together with collaborators whose 'driving biomedical projects' inform development of new technologies at the DRSC. At the same time, we continue to support Drosophila cell-based RNAi and CRIPSR knockout screens and related...

Read more about DRSC-Biomedical Technology Research Resource
Photo of 384-well assay plates

Drosophila cell screen with DRSC reagent library contributes to identification of new therapeutic target for renal cancer

October 7, 2019

We here at the DRSC/TRiP are thrilled to see this study from Hilary Nicholson et al. published in Science Signaling.

The study provides a great example of how screens in Drosophila cultured cells can be used as part of a cross-species platform aimed at discovery of new targets for disease treatment. The work represents a collaboration between the laboratory of 2019 Nobel Prize winner W. Kaelin and DRSC PI N. Perrimon.


Read more about Drosophila cell screen with DRSC reagent library contributes to identification of new therapeutic target for renal cancer
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Community Building and Online Resources at the DRSC/TRiP

August 14, 2018

At the DRSC/TRiP-Functional Genomics Resources, we are interested to let the community know about new resources we have built. We are also interested more broadly to help connect community members to additional resources that could help their research studies, foster collaborations, and build community.

One way in which we reach out to the community is by attending national and local fly group meetings. In 2018, this included or will include attendance at the ADRC fly meeting in Philly (spring 2018), and past or upcoming presentations at Flies on the Beach (FL),...

Read more about Community Building and Online Resources at the DRSC/TRiP

Contact Us

Please contact us for any questions.


Stephanie E. Mohr and Norbert Perrimon. 9/27/2019. “Drosophila melanogaster: a simple system for understanding complexity.” Dis Model Mech, 12, 10. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Understanding human gene function is fundamental to understanding and treating diseases. Research using the model organism Drosophila melanogaster benefits from a wealth of molecular genetic resources and information useful for efficient in vivo experimentation. Moreover, Drosophila offers a balance as a relatively simple organism that nonetheless exhibits complex multicellular activities. Recent examples demonstrate the power and continued promise of Drosophila research to further our understanding of conserved gene functions.

Andrey A Parkhitko, Patrick Jouandin, Stephanie E Mohr, and Norbert Perrimon. 2019. “Methionine metabolism and methyltransferases in the regulation of aging and lifespan extension across species.” Aging Cell, Pp. e13034.Abstract
Methionine restriction (MetR) extends lifespan across different species and exerts beneficial effects on metabolic health and inflammatory responses. In contrast, certain cancer cells exhibit methionine auxotrophy that can be exploited for therapeutic treatment, as decreasing dietary methionine selectively suppresses tumor growth. Thus, MetR represents an intervention that can extend lifespan with a complementary effect of delaying tumor growth. Beyond its function in protein synthesis, methionine feeds into complex metabolic pathways including the methionine cycle, the transsulfuration pathway, and polyamine biosynthesis. Manipulation of each of these branches extends lifespan; however, the interplay between MetR and these branches during regulation of lifespan is not well understood. In addition, a potential mechanism linking the activity of methionine metabolism and lifespan is regulation of production of the methyl donor S-adenosylmethionine, which, after transferring its methyl group, is converted to S-adenosylhomocysteine. Methylation regulates a wide range of processes, including those thought to be responsible for lifespan extension by MetR. Although the exact mechanisms of lifespan extension by MetR or methionine metabolism reprogramming are unknown, it may act via reducing the rate of translation, modifying gene expression, inducing a hormetic response, modulating autophagy, or inducing mitochondrial function, antioxidant defense, or other metabolic processes. Here, we review the mechanisms of lifespan extension by MetR and different branches of methionine metabolism in different species and the potential for exploiting the regulation of methyltransferases to delay aging.
Yanhui Hu, Aram Comjean, Stephanie E Mohr, The FlyBase Consortium, and Norbert Perrimon. 8/7/2017. “Gene2Function: An Integrated Online Resource for Gene Function Discovery.” G3 (Bethesda).Abstract
One of the most powerful ways to develop hypotheses regarding biological functions of conserved genes in a given species, such as in humans, is to first look at what is known about function in another species. Model organism databases (MODs) and other resources are rich with functional information but difficult to mine. Gene2Function (G2F) addresses a broad need by integrating information about conserved genes in a single online resource.
Arunachalam Vinayagam, Meghana M Kulkarni, Richelle Sopko, Xiaoyun Sun, Yanhui Hu, Ankita Nand, Christians Villalta, Ahmadali Moghimi, Xuemei Yang, Stephanie E Mohr, Pengyu Hong, John M Asara, and Norbert Perrimon. 9/13/2016. “An Integrative Analysis of the InR/PI3K/Akt Network Identifies the Dynamic Response to Insulin Signaling.” Cell Reports, 16, 11, Pp. 3062-3074.Abstract

Insulin regulates an essential conserved signaling pathway affecting growth, proliferation, and meta- bolism. To expand our understanding of the insulin pathway, we combine biochemical, genetic, and computational approaches to build a comprehensive Drosophila InR/PI3K/Akt network. First, we map the dynamic protein-protein interaction network sur- rounding the insulin core pathway using bait-prey interactions connecting 566 proteins. Combining RNAi screening and phospho-specific antibodies, we find that 47% of interacting proteins affect pathway activity, and, using quantitative phospho- proteomics, we demonstrate that $10% of interact- ing proteins are regulated by insulin stimulation at the level of phosphorylation. Next, we integrate these orthogonal datasets to characterize the structure and dynamics of the insulin network at the level of protein complexes and validate our method by iden- tifying regulatory roles for the Protein Phosphatase 2A (PP2A) and Reptin-Pontin chromatin-remodeling complexes as negative and positive regulators of ribosome biogenesis, respectively. Altogether, our study represents a comprehensive resource for the study of the evolutionary conserved insulin network. 

Alfeu Zanotto-Filho, Ravi Dashnamoorthy, Eva Loranc, Luis HT de Souza, José CF Moreira, Uthra Suresh, Yidong Chen, and Alexander JR Bishop. 2016. “Combined Gene Expression and RNAi Screening to Identify Alkylation Damage Survival Pathways from Fly to Human.” PLoS One, 11, 4, Pp. e0153970.Abstract

Alkylating agents are a key component of cancer chemotherapy. Several cellular mechanisms are known to be important for its survival, particularly DNA repair and xenobiotic detoxification, yet genomic screens indicate that additional cellular components may be involved. Elucidating these components has value in either identifying key processes that can be modulated to improve chemotherapeutic efficacy or may be altered in some cancers to confer chemoresistance. We therefore set out to reevaluate our prior Drosophila RNAi screening data by comparison to gene expression arrays in order to determine if we could identify any novel processes in alkylation damage survival. We noted a consistent conservation of alkylation survival pathways across platforms and species when the analysis was conducted on a pathway/process level rather than at an individual gene level. Better results were obtained when combining gene lists from two datasets (RNAi screen plus microarray) prior to analysis. In addition to previously identified DNA damage responses (p53 signaling and Nucleotide Excision Repair), DNA-mRNA-protein metabolism (transcription/translation) and proteasome machinery, we also noted a highly conserved cross-species requirement for NRF2, glutathione (GSH)-mediated drug detoxification and Endoplasmic Reticulum stress (ER stress)/Unfolded Protein Responses (UPR) in cells exposed to alkylation. The requirement for GSH, NRF2 and UPR in alkylation survival was validated by metabolomics, protein studies and functional cell assays. From this we conclude that RNAi/gene expression fusion is a valid strategy to rapidly identify key processes that may be extendable to other contexts beyond damage survival.

Iiro Taneli Helenius, Ryan J Haake, Yong-Jae Kwon, Jennifer A Hu, Thomas Krupinski, Marina S Casalino-Matsuda, Peter HS Sporn, Jacob I Sznajder, and Greg J Beitel. 2016. “Identification of Drosophila Zfh2 as a Mediator of Hypercapnic Immune Regulation by a Genome-Wide RNA Interference Screen.” J Immunol, 196, 2, Pp. 655-67.Abstract

Hypercapnia, elevated partial pressure of CO2 in blood and tissue, develops in many patients with chronic severe obstructive pulmonary disease and other advanced lung disorders. Patients with advanced disease frequently develop bacterial lung infections, and hypercapnia is a risk factor for mortality in such individuals. We previously demonstrated that hypercapnia suppresses induction of NF-κB-regulated innate immune response genes required for host defense in human, mouse, and Drosophila cells, and it increases mortality from bacterial infections in both mice and Drosophila. However, the molecular mediators of hypercapnic immune suppression are undefined. In this study, we report a genome-wide RNA interference screen in Drosophila S2* cells stimulated with bacterial peptidoglycan. The screen identified 16 genes with human orthologs whose knockdown reduced hypercapnic suppression of the gene encoding the antimicrobial peptide Diptericin (Dipt), but did not increase Dipt mRNA levels in air. In vivo tests of one of the strongest screen hits, zinc finger homeodomain 2 (Zfh2; mammalian orthologs ZFHX3/ATBF1 and ZFHX4), demonstrate that reducing zfh2 function using a mutation or RNA interference improves survival of flies exposed to elevated CO2 and infected with Staphylococcus aureus. Tissue-specific knockdown of zfh2 in the fat body, the major immune and metabolic organ of the fly, mitigates hypercapnia-induced reductions in Dipt and other antimicrobial peptides and improves resistance of CO2-exposed flies to infection. Zfh2 mutations also partially rescue hypercapnia-induced delays in egg hatching, suggesting that Zfh2's role in mediating responses to hypercapnia extends beyond the immune system. Taken together, to our knowledge, these results identify Zfh2 as the first in vivo mediator of hypercapnic immune suppression.