A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Why are Flies Good at Flying?


A complex network of wing, muscle and nervous system genes all contribute to flight performance, researchers find.

Flies have evolved excellent flying skills thanks to a set of complicated interactions between numerous genes that influence wing shape, muscle function, and nervous system development, as well as the regulation of gene expression during development. These interactions are identified by a team of Brown University researchers in a PLOS Genetics study.

“Fruit flies are colloquially named after their most recognizable ability: flight,” says study lead author Adam Spierer ScM’18 PhD’19. “Yet until now, there wasn’t a systematic study working to uncover the genetics of flight in flies with modern genetic and computational tools.”

Spierer, a postdoctoral researcher at Brown, conducted the research while working in the lab of David M. Rand, PhD, the Stephen T. Olney Professor of Natural History and chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

“One of the big questions in biology asks: How does genotype, or DNA, contribute to phenotype, or the traits we possess?” Spierer says. “Previously, it was thought that the summation of effects from many genes can add up to the end result. But other studies have done a good job of showing specific combinations of variants and genes can also have a large impact. Our work supports the role of both types of effects and interactions, and contributes to the broader debate within the field of quantitative genetics and complex traits.”

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