Overfed Fruit Flies Provide Tools in Diabetes Study

by Mark Benson on June 7, 2012

How Fruit Flies Help Diabetes Research

In a recent research conducted on fruit flies, it was found that overfeeding them with carbohydrates and proteins resulted in not only weight gain but also insulin resistance and shortened life span. This study provides new avenues of research for the study of diabetes in humans, especially in the backdrop of increasing rate of Type 2 diabetics in the United States.

Biologists from the Southern Methodist University at Dallas TX reported they had developed a new tool that would help fellow researchers in better understanding this deadly metabolic condition. They were able to reach this conclusion through the manipulation of diets in healthy adult fruit flies. They had induced the development of insulin resistance in these fruit flies, which is one of the clear indications of having Type 2 diabetes.

Previous research had relied on rats, mice and other animals to determine and explore the metabolic and genetic changes that take place when diabetes develops. With the fruit fly Drosophila Melanogaster who have been pivotal in research on human diseases such as cancer and Alzheimers, they were able to replicate conditions that lead towards development of adult onset diabetes. Furthermore, the fruit fly is low cost and short lifespan, allowing researchers and scientists to conduct rapid screenings to search for new drug treatments against this debilitating diabetes.

The insulin-resistant fruit fly was developed in the laboratory of biologist Johannes H. Bauer at SMU, who also is the principal researcher of the study and assistant professor at SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences. The said condition was induced through high nutrient diets fed to the fruit flies. This same process replicates one of the ways that insulin resistance develops in humans, through overeating leading to obesity. These fruit flies now serve as an efficient model for studying Type 2 diabetes.

According to Bauer, “We learned that by manipulating the nutrients of fruit flies, we can make them insulin resistant. With this insulin-resistant model we can now go in with pinpoint precision and study the molecular mechanisms of insulin resistance, as well as drug treatments for the condition, as well as how to treat obesity, how to block insulin resistance and how metabolic changes from specific diet develop. The possibilities are endless.”

The researchers reported their findings in the publication Biochimica et Biophysica Acta in the paper entitled, “Development of Diet-induced Insulin Resistance in Adult Drosophila Melanogaster”.

The study was done in determining whether flies develop diabetes-like metabolic changes when ingesting different diets. The two ways done were one group of flies was overfed with a carbohydrate loaded diet while a second group was overfed a protein loaded diet. In both instances, the disruption had an effect on the overall health and physiology of the fruit flies. The carbo overloaded flies gained excessive weight and got fat while the overfed protein flies gained but eventually lost weight. In both instances, the fruit flies developed insulin resistance but the protein overloaded flies developed this condition at a quicker and more severe rate.

Bauer further added, “Carbo-loaded flies gain weight. Protein loaded flies gain and then lose weight. So the two diets have exactly opposite effects on metabolism. But too much of either one of them causes insulin resistance. That surprised us.”


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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