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Fat Little Flies - What They Can Tell Us About Obesity-Related Diseases

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One UNLV professor is taking a unique approach to researching obesity and obesity-associated diseases.

Answers to some of these big problems could be found in the smallest of places. That’s why life sciences professor Allen Gibbs is studying fruit flies.

Obese fruit flies to be exact. 

By a genetic selection process that started in 2007, Gibbs now has 97 generations of fruit flies that weigh approximately 50 percent more than the average fly. 

So while Gibbs' lab has been a survival of the fattest, the flies would not likely survive in the outside world - as they have a hard time flying and are much less active than an average fly. 

Studying the effects of obesity in fruit flies is furthering knowledge of how it effects humans. The hearts of starvation-selected fruit flies are dilated and don't contract properly and alter the anatomical position of the heart. 

“The main thing I’m interested is what are the genes that cause flies to be obese," Gibbs explained to KNPR's State of Nevada. "We have a lot of candidate genes but we have to follow up. If there are any promising ones, other labs will follow up probably in mice. If we can make mice fat based on my research, then ultimately people will go after genes in humans.”

Gibbs said gene research in flies is now to the point where researchers can turn off and turn on genes almost at will. He said his research is not focused on genes that have a big impact on obesity. 

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“Ours is going to allow us to find genes that are basically interacting with each other to cause obesity,” he said.

The ultimate goal would be to understand the genetic factors to lead to obesity and find a way mitigate those factors. 

So why flies? Gibbs said the majority of genes in fruit flies are also found in humans. 

Guests

Allen Gibbs, life sciences professor, UNLV 

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