Drosophila is a versatile model for investigating a variety of questions. The Drosophila model enables researchers to perform synergetic, integrated studies in a relatively short period of time. Powerful genetic tools are available, and it has advantages for demographic analysis and is suitable for molecular and biochemical studies. One can identify a gene of interest by phenotype screening or candidate locus approaches. The gene can be expressed, overexpressed, or deleted by genetic tools, and this can be done in a tissue- and time-specific manner. Its effect on lifespan can be monitored, and patterns of aging can be characterized by demographic analysis; downstream effects at the molecular level, as well as physiological and behavioral effects, can all be studied. Studies through gene homology will have great implications for higher organisms including humans.
However, there are some downsides to use of Drosophila as a model. Because Drosophila is small relative to mammals and birds, it is difficult to perform physiological and biochemical studies which require manual tissue isolation or dissection. Drosophila strains can rapidly evolve in laboratory culture; it is possible that deleterious mutations can accumulate and thus make closely related stocks genetically differentiated. This can give rise to serious confounding results, particularly when crosses are generated from these stocks.
In addition, there are theoretical considerations that should be taken into account. Aging may involve different processes in different species, and its underlying mechanisms may be different. Flies are short-lived, so they may not have evolved good longevity-promoting systems such as efficient damage-repair/defense systems. Furthermore, there are distinct biological differences between flies and mammals as indicated above. For these reasons, one cannot always translate results on Drosophila directly into mammals.
Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the Drosophila model has contributed significantly to our understanding of aging. Bearing in mind its limitations and knowing its advantages, in balance, Drosophila will still long continue to be an extremely useful model organism to understand basic mechanisms of aging and to give important clues for aging in the more complex mammalian systems.
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For centuries, ever since the legendary Ponce de Leon went searching for the elusive Fountain of Youth, people have been looking for ways to slow down the aging process. Medical science has made great strides in keeping people alive longer by preventing and curing disease, and helping people to live healthier lives. Average life expectancy keeps increasing, and most of us can look forward to the chance to live much longer lives than our ancestors.