A Drosophila molecular genetics lab at the University of Arkansas. We use a combination of genetic, cytogenetic and biochemical approaches to study the coordinated regulation of development and metabolism.

Growth and death are part of the normal cycle of life. Organisms grow and die, and so do individual cells within developing and differentiated tissues. Even entire organs can be removed by programmed cell death. A fundamental requirement for growth and survival, as well as certain forms of cell death, are sufficient supplies of energy. How are these fundamental processes in development and metabolism controlled and coordinated? This is the central question the work in our laboratory revolves around. To find answers, we use a fruit fly species, Drosophila melanogaster. These tiny insects have proven to be excellent genetic models for studying basic biology for more than 100 years.

Growth and even death (at the cellular level) are not possible without a sufficient supply of energy. At the center of energy metabolism are energy stores in the form of neutral fats (triacylglycerols or TAGs). We are interested in how these fat stores are regulated and utilized to drive growth and normal development. Our work has shown, for instance, that the lipin protein is a key player in fat tissue development and fat storage in flies. Lipins have been conserved throughout evolution. They have similar functions in fat storage in mammals, and control lipid metabolism even in yeasts and plants. Based on our initial discoveries, we will continue to use fly genetics to understand fundamental aspects of the regulation of energy metabolism. This work will not only be of importance for a better understanding of basic metabolic control, but also for conditions in which this control is deranged. Thus, findings may be of impact in the fight against the obesity epidemic that is putting an increasing burden on health systems in many countries of the industrialized world.

During metamorphosis of the fruit fly larva into an adult fly, entire organs are removed and replaced by adult tissues. This intriguing feature makes insect metamorphosis an ideal system to study mechanisms that control programmed cell death. We are especially interested in genes that control the timing of death in the larval salivary glands, a model tissue that is being used for the characterization of cell death pathways. We have found that one of the genes instrumental for the timely demise of the salivary glands encodes the Drosophila Fork head transcription factor. However, many components of the regulatory network that controls programmed cell death in this model tissue remain to be discovered. The hope is to find novel players and to more accurately define signaling pathways that are also involved in cell death control in other organisms, including humans. This may eventually lead to an improved understanding and treatment of diseases that are associated with decreased or increased cell death, such as cancers or neurodegenerative disorders.

These materials are not endorsed, approved, sponsored, or provided by or on behalf of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.