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Melanogaster Catch The Fly

MCTF is the first European citizen science network in adaptation genomics. It offers the possibility to participate in scientific experiments with leading researchers in this field of biology, such as Dr. Josefa González and her team at the Laboratory of Evolutionary and Functional Genomics (González Lab) of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-UPF) in Barcelona.

Through direct involvement, the proposal aims to bring science to students and teachers of populations of Spain within the framework of the scientific project in genomics adaptation of The European Drosophila Population Genomics Consortium (DrosEU). The objective of the scientific project is to understand how organisms adapt to the environment by working with a model organism in genetics: Drosophila melanogaster (the fruit fly).

MCTF started in 2016 with the participation of young students and teachers from two Spanish high schools, Tomelloso (Ciudad Real) and Baza (Granada) collecting fruit fly samples from fruit fields from their area, classifying them and sending them to analyse to the González Lab in Barcelona. Researchers from Gonzlález Lab along with the scientific dissemination platform “Science in your World” (LCATM in Spanish) have prepared educational materials on concepts of biology and genetics so that the participants could prepare themselves and get ready for the experience.

The project has the support and funding of the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) and the European Research Council (ERC).

Scientific purpose

The scientific project aims to identify the genetic changes and molecular mechanisms through which organisms adapt to different environmental conditions.

Understanding adaptation provides valuable information for biology because it involves deepening our understanding of how organisms adapt to new conditions and new biological scenarios in order to survive better. Understanding how the process of adaptation occurs can help understand, for example, how viruses can infect new hosts, how bacteria can resist the effect of certain antibiotics, and how some cells can adapt and therefore resist chemotherapy treatments. Or how pests can adapt and end up resisting the effect of certain insecticides.

Information extracted from the understanding of the adaptation process can have potentially relevant implications of great economic and social impact in areas such as medicine, health or agriculture, with enormous potential for greater social welfare.

To understand how organisms adapt to the environment we must identify what changes in the organism and how it happens. In terms of biology, this means that we must identify which genes of the organism are involved in the process of change and through which molecular mechanisms the changes occur.

To do this, it is necessary to analyze organisms that live and are exposed to different environmental conditions, to sequence their genome and to identify those changes or mutations. The organism chosen to perform this type of genetic studies is the fruit fly, whose scientific name is Drosophila melanogaster.

Why the fruit fly?

Drosophila melanogaster (the fruit fly) is what in science is known as a model organism, which has nothing to do with being an exemplary insect, but rather that it is an ideal organism to perform certain research studies in a laboratory. The fruit fly is an excellent model for studies in genetics and great scientific advances have been achieved thanks to this small fly.

It has characteristics that make it suitable for these types of studies. It is a small organism, easy to maintain and to manipulate in the laboratory. It is simple to breed and reproduces quickly, being able to obtain several generations in a short space of time. Being small, thousands of individuals can be kept in a small space, making it possible to save the equivalent in number to the whole population of Madrid or Barcelona in a few trays of the laboratory! In addition, its genome is known, as it was sequenced in the year 2000, and has some similarity with that of humans.

For these reasons, the fruit fly has been used in thousands of projects as well as important scientific awards and recognitions with up to 5 Nobel prizes!

The small fruit fly is native to Africa, as is man, but today it is found all over the world, just like us. Drosophila is easily found in nature and in all environments making it the ideal candidate for genomic research on adaptation.

And … Why citizen science?

Because between us all we can put together more hands, more eyes and a greater intellect … because by teaching and learning we collaborate to form a society with greater knowledge while streamlining the work of researchers to make science advance faster. In the autumn of 2016, Dr. González and members of her team visited Tomelloso (Ciudad Real) and Baza (Granada) to work collecting fruit fly specimens, along with students and professors from the IES Eladio Cabañero and IES José de Mora, both local high schools of the respective localities. Subsequently, the specimens were classified with the help of the students and teachers and, finally, they were sent to be sequenced.

The students of the high schools will also be able to participate in the analysis of the information obtained from the genetic sequences, thanks to some modules of analysis that González Lab and LCATM are generating for this purpose.

Tomelloso and Baza have been invited to collaborate in the development of the project during the next 4 years. Throughout this time the high school and its students will be consolidated as the reference and model for those new localities that want to join the experience, not only in Spain but also in the rest of Europe.