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Fruit Fly Mutations May Help Predict Human Diseases

An Indiana University researcher has found a gene mutation in fruit flies which may help explain how human diseases change over time.

In Kristi Montooth’s lab at Indiana University, there are thousands of fruit flies.  Those flies are made up of cells similar to those in humans, including a specific part of the cell called mitochondria. As in humans, fruit fly mitochondria have different DNA than the rest of the insect, and it’s the place where those two combine that Montooth studies.

Montooth’s team and colleagues from Brown University showed that mutations in the two types of DNA can amplify each other’s effects, making genetic traits more pronounced.

“This would be an ability to better predict from genetic information the probability that somebody may actually manifest a disease,” she says. “So you would have this mutation – perfectly normal, and you have this nuclear mutation. [That's] perfectly normal.  It’s the combination of those two that creates the incompatible state.”

Montooth’s research may pave the way for studying markers in human mitochondria and determining if the children of parents with complex diseases will actually develop them. Montooth’s research appears in the Public Library of Science’s genetics journal.

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