Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

Understanding genetic factors contributing to COPD

Image of a fruit fly by Karol Głąbpl via Wikimedia Commons

According to a study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, we have a lot in common with fruit flies when it comes to the layer of cells that line our airways. So much so, that researchers claim Drosophila melanogaster are important models for lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a debilitating disease that claimed the lives of over 3 million people worldwide in just 2019 alone. In addition to environmental factors, such as smoking, researchers have identified genetic factors that contribute to an individual’s risk of developing COPD.

Nearly 75% of human genes are shared by fruit flies and the airways of humans and fruit flies share similar responses to carbon dioxide as well as inhaled toxins. In lieu of lungs, fruit flies have an intricate tracheal system that provides oxygen throughout their body. Similar to lungs, the tracheal system is comprised of gas-filled tubes that become progressively smaller as the air moves into the body. In comparing human and fruit fly genes, researchers identified 73 human genes and 438 fruit fly genes that were related in some way to COPD. Armed with this information, researchers can explore similarities and differences in the way humans and fruit flies deal with environmental toxins in effort to develop novel ways to treat or prevent COPD.  


E Rouka, N Gourgoulianni, S Lupold, S Hatzoglu, KI Gourgoulianis, SG Zarogiannis. Prediction and enrichment analyses of the Homo sapiens-Drosophila melanogaster COPD-related orthologs: potential for modeling of human COPD genomic responses with the fruit fly. American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 322(1), R77-R82, 2022.

Categories: Aging, Environment, Hibernation and Hypoxia, Illnesses and Injuries

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