Fruit flies such as Drosophila melanogaster and closely-related species can be a nuisance in your fruit bowl at this time of the year, but they continue to be valuable model organisms in biomedical research. In this example, a protein called Notch (pictured in red and blue), is involved in the mechanisms of how cells communicate with each other (cell-cell signaling) and how cells decide upon where they should be in the adult fly during its development (cell fate). The Notch protein and many others were first discovered in fruit flies, and subsequently found in other organisms including humans, where they have similar roles in cell-cell signaling and cell fate. Research on fruit flies has had profound and lasting effects on the understanding of human health and disease processes. For example, studies of the Notch protein in fruit flies have advanced our understanding and treatment of cancer and heart disease in humans, and the development of wings and eyes in flies!
The pupal fruit fly eye tissue was stained with a fluorescent protein attached to an antibody to the Notch protein, and imaged using laser scanning confocal microscopy. The image was subsequently colorized using a computer lookup table (LUT) so that the concentration of Notch protein associated with the cells is mapped to color with red being the highest, and shades of blue lower concentrations of Notch. The cells outlined in red (highest concentration of Notch) are the pigment cells that surround each unit of the eye (called an ommatidium). The diameter of each ommatidium is 15 micrometers.
Richard Fehon, PhD, Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Chicago, USA