Drosophila Melanogaster

  • National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, have studied fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) and discovered a very interesting phenomenon. Brain development in Drosophila larvae under conditions of starvation is supported, in the absence of adequate supply of nutrients, by an alternate “pathway.”
  • In their experiments, the researchers focussed on neuroendocrine cells (NE cells).

Neuroendocrine Cells:

  • These are neurons, or brain cells, that secrete certain hormones that activate other cells to produce proteins that govern vital function.
  • They observed that when developing larvae of Drosophila were starved, they continued to proliferate.
  • This led them to question whether Drosophila possessed alternate ways of ‘weathering” this nutrient-deficient stress.

The research shows that there exists an alternative to the “pathway” that triggers protein production in the cells. A pathway is a series of steps that allow cells to convert external information into internal action. It typically acts to amplify a specific signal.

Two pathways

  • In this case, the researchers found two pathways: In the first case, nutrients, such as amino acids and sugars, are the external signal that is sensed by the insulin receptor (InR) and then conveyed by various steps along the pathway, to finally tell the cell to make more protein.
  • In the second pathway, small molecules bind a cell surface protein called G-protein coupled receptor. One of the pathways activated by this is the IP3R (Inositol1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor) Ca2+ signalling pathway. IP3R acts by releasing calcium ions from the endoplasmic reticulum within the cell.
  • This takes the level of calcium ions in the cells much above normal levels: “Calcium ion concentration in the cytosol is kept deliberately very low.
  • When calcium ions are released, many enzymes in the cytosol, which were hitherto inactive, become activated and can now further potentiate the change by affecting other proteins,”.
  • That IP3R can stimulate protein synthesis is itself a new finding from this research.
  • Also, the finding that when the cell gets enough nutrition, this pathway is turned off and becomes active only when needed.
  • Thirdly, it also shows that the effect of IP3R on neuroendocrine cell protein synthesis affects the protein metabolism at the level of the whole organism.

Source: The Hindu

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