One day, in 1910, Thomas Hunt Morgan, an American geneticist, while performing experiments on a particular species of flies made an astounding discovery that changed the trajectory of science and started a cascade of other discoveries that would answer some of the puzzles of life. After breeding these flies, he decided to observe the parents and the offspring produced, and what he noticed puzzled him greatly. He observed that one of the offspring flies had a distinguishing white eye, instead of the brilliant red eye characteristic of these flies. He later performed even more experiments to unravel this mystery and this led him to a conclusion that genes contained in chromosomes controlled these characters. His conclusion became known as the chromosomal theory of inheritance and would later serve as a framework upon which many other theories would be built.
These discoveries have not just changed the outlook of biology but also given useful insights as to the treatment and management of several diseases such as immune diseases, diabetes, and cancer. In the center of these researches lies a humble species of fly known as Drosophila melanogaster commonly known as the fruitfly. Studying this creature has helped scientists to solve certain puzzles that humans face.
To facilitate the study of the fruit fly, a team of about 158 researchers from 40 different laboratories has compiled an atlas that contains all the cells that can be found in this creature.
An achievement despite the odds
The team, consisting of researchers in different parts of the globe succeeded in creating an atlas of each cell in the fruit fly. This was by no means an easy feat. Stein Aerts, group leader at VIB and KU Leuven in Belgium, one of the 40 laboratories involved in the study says, “Several research groups across the globe, including my own, have recently applied single-cell sequencing to different fruit fly tissues at different developmental stages. However, the problem is that these data have been generated by different laboratories on different genetic backgrounds with different protocols and sequencing platforms, which has hindered the systematic comparison of gene expression across cells and tissues.”
To overcome the challenge posed by different genetic backgrounds, researchers analyzed the flies using consistent standards, tools, and protocols. The single-cell atlas took the researchers four years to compile.
Many discoveries in the field of medicine and biology can be attributed to studies related to fruit flies. It has been proven that about two-thirds of the protein-coding genes of these insects are similar to those in humans. Discoveries in these flies, therefore, reflect happenings in the human genome. The single-cell atlas of the fruit fly acts as a guide for researchers studying this organism and this will go a long way in providing a proper understanding of the flies and accelerating future human advancements.
The single-cell atlas is a leap in the right direction, a compendium that will grant access to a whole new world of discoveries and a guide that when accessed will set up a ripple effect that will benefit every human being.