Why should we be thanking fruit flies? Because they may hold the key to understanding aspects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Research is being done using fruit flies to see if “jumping genes”, or transposons, are responsible for deterioration of brain cells in Alzheimer’s patients.
To understand this theory, imagine yourself in a library that has many books, all in perfect order. When you want to find information, everything is so well organized that it takes not time at all to find the book. Now imagine someone reorganized the books, leaving no logical order. It would be nearly impossible to find the information that you were looking for.
That’s what happens with transposons. The “library” is the DNA within a brain cell, and the “books” within that “library” are the genes that have specific instructions on how to function as a brain cell. But transposons rearrange the order of those genes. So when the cell tries to do something a normal brain cell would do, it can’t find the instructions on how to do it. Eventually the cell will stop working all together.
Although this is a new theory as to how Alzheimer’s disease is caused, it is accepted that transposons do cause other conditions such as hemophilia, certain kinds of cancer, and muscular dystrophy. If they can also conclusively link it to Alzheimer’s disease, better ways of treating it could be found.
So, let’s thank the fruit fly for helping us in our battle against Alzheimer’s disease.