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.
The protein-protein interaction (PPI) network is crucial for cellular information processing and decision-making. With suitable inputs, PPI networks drive the cells to diverse functional outcomes such as cell proliferation or cell death. Here, we characterize the structural controllability of a large directed human PPI network comprising 6,339 proteins and 34,813 interactions. This network allows us to classify proteins as "indispensable," "neutral," or "dispensable," which correlates to increasing, no effect, or decreasing the number of driver nodes in the network upon removal of that protein. We find that 21% of the proteins in the PPI network are indispensable. Interestingly, these indispensable proteins are the primary targets of disease-causing mutations, human viruses, and drugs, suggesting that altering a network's control property is critical for the transition between healthy and disease states. Furthermore, analyzing copy number alterations data from 1,547 cancer patients reveals that 56 genes that are frequently amplified or deleted in nine different cancers are indispensable. Among the 56 genes, 46 of them have not been previously associated with cancer. This suggests that controllability analysis is very useful in identifying novel disease genes and potential drug targets.