As reported by Examiner.com, December 29, 2010.

UConn Researchers Use Fruit Fly and Tiny Worm to Study Human Genome

By Harry McBrien

A press release from the UConn Health Center describes how researchers, in analyzing the genomes of the common fruit fly and a tiny worm, have made several discoveries that promise to reshape scientific understanding of how the human genome functions. The findings of UConn geneticist Brenton Graveley and his team were published last week.

The human genome, notes the report, is a map made up of some 3 billion “letters” of the four-letter DNA alphabet lined up in a well defined sequence that are a cell’s instructions for making a human being. Both the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) and the roundworm share many genetic similarities with humans, yet their genomes are far easier to work with in experimental settings.

Because all diseases have a genetic component, it is believed that knowledge of the genome’s precise sequence of DNA units will lead to significant advances in many branches of medicine.

“The importance of the work of Dr. Graveley and his collaborators cannot be understated,” said Marc Lalande, senior associate dean for research planning and coordination at the Health Center and director of UConn’s Stem Cell Institute.

Graveley, a professor in the Health Center’s Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology, said the researchers learned that “the number of building blocks used to build a fly” is much greater than once thought. He noted that further work on the function of these new elements will provide valuable insight into animal development, including that of humans.

“The fruit fly is the ideal model for the study of functional regulatory elements in the human genome,” Graveley said. “It shares the structure and many features of the human genome; many human proteins function just as well in fruit flies. Yet it is small enough for high-resolution, genome-wide analysis.”