Disease Hunters

Leaders:  Michael McKeown and Rob Reenan - Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry

Why do we get sick?  What, in fact, is health?  Some of the answers to these questions  can be addressed in the light of genetics.  Many diseases in humans have genetic  components.  While some diseases have very simple genetics, determined by Mendel’s laws, others are multifactorial- many different susceptibility factors can combine to cause disease, making diagnosis and understanding of the disease mechanism difficult. 
One way to look at disease is through the lens of shared descent.  Our goal will be to find genes that are common between humans and the powerful model genetic system, Drosophila melanogaster, the fruit fly.  Bioinformatic tools will be used to compare genes between humans and flies, and make predictions based upon the knowledge of disease mechanisms and conservation of processes, about which mutations would be likely to have effects if introduced into the fly gene.  
We will then use state-of-the-art genetics to introduce such mutations into the fly genome, and determine methods that can be applied assess whether the disease model is valid.  The goal is for students to observe and participate in all phases of this approach from start to finish and gain an appreciation for how genetic modeling is pursued.
One particularly interesting set of genes to focus on is the group with mutations that alter neural or behavioral functions in humans.