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Research using model organisms like Drosophila needs a boost

April 15, 2014

A national stock and research centre, a portal for exchange of research information, training of undergraduates and graduates and access to reagents are key requirements suggested at this year’s fly meet

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India’s need for a National Drosophila Stock & Research Centre to help researchers to use the economic and efficient fruitfly model for analyses of a diverse range of contemporary basic and applied research issues was highlighted in the Drosophila meeting 2014 at the Banares Hindu University in March.

A ‘Fly Board’ appointed during the meeting would soon submit a proposal to the Department of Biotechnology for establishment of this centre.

The meeting showed a rising trend of the use of the fruitfly model by researchers in the country. However, the limited access to fly stocks and reagents that are otherwise freely available internationally has deterred this growth.

Scientists at the meeting also pointed out that they are severely handicapped due to inadequate student training at the under-/post-graduate levels and due to limited access to the up-to-date knowledge base. The National Stock & Research Centre could fill these gaps.

Yet, there was much reason for optimism. It was evident from the presentations at the meeting that despite the limitations, there are many pockets of excellence. Several laboratories have made significant advances in their research and some are indeed comparable to their colleagues elsewhere in the world.

The need now is to spread such research on a much wider scale in the country so that Indian researchers can actively participate in technology development using Drosophila.

Besides, setting up the national centre, other routes of achieving this were discussed– ways of facilitating the process of procuring Drosophila stocks by individual scientists/ institutions from abroad, ways to spread the use of Drosophila in class-room teaching at under- and post-graduate courses across the country, setting up a system of continuous information exchange about new research findings and new reagents (mutants, clones, transgenic lines etc) generated in different laboratories and organizing future Drosophila meetings on a regular schedule.

The scientists agreed, addressing the issues would help existing fly researchers make better use of their efforts and also aid more groups to come up and develop new questions using ‘simple’ model organisms.

It was decided that an ad hoc Indian Fly Board comprising of Professor S C Lakhotia from BHU, Varanasi, Prof L S Shashidhara  from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, Dr Lolitika Mandal from IISER, Mohali, Dr Vijay K. Sharma from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore, Dr Mousumi Mutsuddi from BHU, Varanasi and Dr Upendra Nongthomba from IISc, Bangalore would develop directions.

 The meeting organized by the Cytogenetics Section, Department of Zoology, Banaras Hindu University brought together more than 90 active research groups in India who are currently utilizing Drosophila as a model organism to pursue their research interests.

They shared information on ongoing research programmes so that better networking and collaborations can be forged between Indian fly researchers. Altogether 44 group leaders from across India participated in this meeting and each presented an overview of their research programmes.

Presentations at the meeting showed that research focus of the Drosophila community in India can be classified into the following broad categories: a) disease models, toxicology and stress biology; b) ecological and evolutionary studies including research on cytogenetics of laboratory scale speciation; c) molecular and cellular analyses of circadian rhythms; d) molecular basis and cell biology of gene expression, regulation and signaling during development; e) developmental cell biology of stem cells, tissue morphogenesis and differentiation.

The well attended lectures generated extensive discussion. It was evident that fly researchers in the country are successfully exploiting the enormous advantage of the exquisite molecular-genetic technology offered by the Drosophila model for analysis of diverse cellular of biology from the molecular to the systems and behavioural levels.

Scientists pointed out that the proposed National Drosophila Stock and Research Centreshould preferably be housed as an autonomous centre within a University campus in partnership with DBT and should have adequate staff, space and infrastructure, which should be fully supported on a long-term basis by DBT.

It should have mandates to function as a national stock centre, undertake research, including development of newer technologies, provide adequate facilities to researchers for undertaking extensive genetic screens, train university/college and school teachers in using fly for classroom learning, and organise fly meetings and training workshops in research methodologies.

The board will also work out strategies to develop a web portal for continuous exchange of information about new research findings and new reagents (mutants, clones, transgenic lines etc) generated in different laboratories in the country.

 Researchers agreed that the model was not only useful in research but was also an effective teaching tool to disseminate a variety of biological concepts, at a cost much less than many other alternatives.

In order to nurture this potential, the ad hoc Indian Fly Board will develop a structure to initiate discussions and steer the process of generating curricula and laboratory manuals for teaching Genetics, Cell & Developmental Biology and Systems Biology using Drosophila in class rooms. It will also suggest suitable modules for using Drosophila for teaching ecology, evolutionary and behavioral biology.

Scientists agreed that Drosophila Meetings would be held every year at a suitable location which is accessible to all participants and at affordable costs. Students and faculty members should be encouraged to participate along with other academic members of their labs in them.

Despite the limited resources, the fly community of India has travelled a long road. We will all look forward to escalation of the proposed activities which could help the community not only to become internationally influential in research but would also let it contribute to development of newer reagents for world-wide use.

Contact Professor Subhash Lakhotia for further details

With inputs from Raghu Padinjat, Krishanu Ray and Subhash Lakhotia

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