Here is a link to the Come Fly With Me poster (Perspectives poster) after which the blog is named. The info below was my application to the competition and got me selected as a finalist, what do you think about it?
Please describe your research in a way that is accessible to a non-scientist.
(250 words MAX.)
I am trying to understand how eyes are formed and how to cope with jet-lag (through examining the daily body clock) by studying fruit flies. I am trying to understand this by studying their genes. Astonishingly, there are a lot of similarities between human and fruit fly genes – the ‘master’ eye gene in fruit flies is 94% similar to the human gene! Animals’ genes are like their blueprint – they carry all the information required to make the animal. These blueprints are ‘read’ by a set of various proteins (‘labourers’ of the body), other sets of proteins then carry out the instructions from the genes. In different parts of the body, different proteins are used to read only the genes that are required for making that part of the body. For example, when an eye is being made, eye-making proteins read genes for making eyes but not genes that make legs. As the eyes are formed, there are lots of different genes and proteins (factors) involved at the same time and we only understand a handful of them at the moment. Sometimes, out of the several factors that are used in making eyes, some of them are sometimes used in making other parts of the body, for example brain cells. The main protein that I am investigating is used for making eyes and the part of the brain that forms the daily body clock. I am trying to see what other factors that make the eye also make the clock.
Why do you want to take part in perspectives?
(250 words MAX.)
I have been fortunate enough to have had several opportunities to try and spark my love of science in others during the course of my Ph.D. This has been through doing Researchers in Residence; demonstrating biology practicals to school groups and the public at Manchester Museum; setting up a ‘show-and-tell’ style exhibit at Manchester Museum for the ‘Darwin Extra Big Saturday’ event and demonstrating the intricacies of the brain to primary school children and at a train station as part of the ‘Brain Bus’. I think that it is important to make science accessible to people so that they know and understand it. As my research is sponsored by a publically funded research council, I also believe that the public have a right to know about current research that is, ultimately, funded by them. Perspectives is another fantastic opportunity to talk to the public about science and my own research.
What impact does your research area have on society (direct and/or indirect)?
(250 words MAX.)
Fruit flies are a popular and widely researched animal in life sciences. There are some remarkable similarities in how flies and humans function at the level of cells and within the cell. This high degree of similarity means that research on fruit flies can shows us how humans develop, this helps us understand how diseases start and progress when something goes wrong in the normal process. This can potentially have a massive impact on society down the line.
My research is contributing to a full comprehension of how genes work. Despite having a vast amount of information today about gene and protein interactions, we are still only scratching at the surface and new advances continue to be made. Strengthening this foundation is important to have a strong grasp on how genes and proteins work together as a network. The human genome has been sequenced but we still only understand a minute fraction of the data due to a lack of full insight about what is contained within. This is essential for a full understanding of genetic disorders and searching for targeted therapies. Thorough comprehension of the genetic basis for a disorder can aid drug development, allowing it to be targeted to the individual needs of the patient.
Understanding the body clock is becoming a vital issue as health effects caused by jet-lag and shift work (that disrupt the body clock) have only just begun to be appreciated. The cost of these to the individual and to society may be phenomenal.
How has your research (or research area) been shaped by society?
(250 words MAX.)
Using the fruit fly as the research animal of choice is in line with government policy to reduce, refine and replace the use of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish where possible in scientific research. Genetic studies in flies are currently being used to learn about a wide variety of issues that have become more pertinent in recent years; for example, drug addiction, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease can all be studied in fruit flies! Given the breadth of research possible in fruit flies and the need to replace higher animal models where possible, fruit fly research is a valuable alternative.
Another instance of society influencing research is down to our 24-hour lifestyles in the Western world that are becoming more and more prevalent. This leads to a large proportion of the work force doing shift work or disrupting their body clock for leisure. This in turn will have an ever greater impact on the costs incurred by the NHS in treating the outcomes of these lifestyles. These lifestyles, therefore, are certainly dictating the sort of research that is required today.