- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
If you're suffering from a sleep disorder, then you'll want to know the kind of research that molecular geneticist Joanna Chiu of the UC Davis Department of Entomology is doing--with fruit flies.
The research may one day lead to alleviating your sleep disorder.
Chiu and two of her former colleagues at Rutgers just published groundbreaking research in the journal Cell. They identified a new mechanism that slows down or speeds up the internal clock of fruit flies.
By mutating one amino acid in a single protein, "we changed the speed of the internal clock and flies now ‘think' it is 16 hours a day instead of 24 hours a day," said Chiu, an assistant professor of entomology.
"Our goal, of course, is not to trick flies into thinking the day is shorter or longer, but to dissect this complex phospho-circuit (phosphorylation sites) that controls clock speed in metazoans."
Their work, involving the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The world of circadian clocks is a complex one. "Living organisms-plants, animals and even bacteria-have an internal clock or timer that helps them to determine the time of day," Chiu said. "This internal clock is vital to their survival since it allows them to synchronize their activity to the natural environment, so that they can perform necessary tasks at biologically advantageous times of day."
"A functional clock is required to generate proper circadian rhythms of physiology and behavior including the sleep-wake cycle, daily hormonal variations and mating rhythms," Chiu said.
Read more about her research on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
The fruit fly, small in size--about 1/8th inch long--stands tall as a prized tool for genetic research and developmental studies.
Indeed, the red-eyed fly is a "golden bug.”