The fruit fly is less than an inch in length, has eyes almost as large as its head, and has wings enabling it to fly. Not much in common with humans--or so you'd think.
In fact, the Drosophila fruit fly is often studied by researchers because of its similarities to humans. As detailed in a Nov. 9 article in Science Daily, UCLA scientists have identified the gene PGC-1, found in both fruit flies and humans, as a key to slowing the aging process. A related article last week discussed a similar study lead by Leanne Jones, an associate professor in Salk's Laboratory of Genetic, in which Jones was quoted as saying, "Fruit flies and humans have a lot more in common than most people think. There is a tremendous amount of similarity between a human small intestine and the fruit fly intestine."
Fruit flies have also been a part of NASA research for years. You may have thought that a chimp was the first animal to be sent into space, but in actuality, it was the Drosophila fly, which was shot into space in 1947 on the V2 rocket.
And the flies are still being sent into space, even with the end of the U.S. space shuttle program this summer. One such project at the International Space Station focused on a study of the effects of microgravity on the development of the nervous and immune systems, as well as any resulting genetic changes. Because the flies are so small and breed so quickly, the study can encompass a high number of flies in a single venture. And the similarities can then be corresponded to similar effects on humans.