Scientists have developed a computer modelling simulation to explore how cells of the fruit fly react to changes in the “Cell, Martin Baron et al.”environment. The research is part of an ongoing study that is investigating how external environmental factors impact on health and disease.

The simulation shows how cells of the fruit fly communicate with each other during their development. The current phase of the study looks at how temperature affects cell signalling networks during development. This will help explain how flies – and other organisms – develop across a wide range of temperatures. Dr Martin Baron, lead researcher on the study, said:

“It is exciting that the computer model was able to make predictions that we could test by going back to the fly experiments to investigate the effects of different mutations which alter the components of the cells. It shows us that the model is working well and provides a solid basis on which to develop its sophistication further.”

The next phase of the study will see the team research how cell signalling networks adjust to other environmental changes, including nutrition. Dr Baron said:

“There is a lot of interest in how environmental inputs influence our health and disease by interacting with our genetic makeup. Our initial studies have already shown that changes to the adult fly’s diet can also affect how cells inside a fly communicate with each other and produce responses in certain fly tissues. This is a promising avenue for future studies.”

Baron explains that there are wider implications for understanding human health and disease:

“Many different types of signal control normal development but when some of these signals are mis-activated they can result in the formation of tumours. What we’ve learnt from studying the flies is that some communication signals can arise in different ways and this means that, in cancer, mis-activation of these signals can also occur by different routes. This is important because it can help us to understand how to stop mis-activation from occurring.”

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