Unleashing the Power of the Fly: The Australian Drosophila Transgenic Facility

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The Australian Drosophila Transgenic Facility, co-led by Phenomics Australia Scientific Leader Professor Kieran Harvey, will be a unique facility for generating transgenic strains of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. It will utilise the revolutionary new CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technologies married with well-established transgenesis methods.

The significance of using Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism for molecular genetic research:

Drosophila is an outstanding model organism for molecular genetic research, and Drosophila research has provided a myriad of crucial fundamental biological insights. The striking conservation between fly and human genes and their mechanisms of action has also meant that the study of this organism has provided seminal insights into multiple aspects of human biology.

Drosophila eyes with a defective Hippo pathway (right) overgrow substantially compared to normal eyes (left). The Hippo pathway was first discovered in Drosophila as a regulator of organ size. Subsequently, it was found to be mutated in a broad range of human cancers, as well as other human diseases.

The use of CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology enhances the functional genomics research at the Australian Drosophila Transgenic Facility:

The ability to manipulate the genomes of experimental animals in a specific, targeted manner, is central to functional genomics, the burgeoning research discipline dedicated to deciphering the in vivo functions of all genes in a given species. Genome manipulation through transgenic techniques allows the effect of gain or loss of gene function to be assessed in a defined, constant genetic background. Genes can also be manipulated to attach fluorophores that allow the visualisation of gene products in living organisms, providing critical information about their functions. In addition, gene replacement techniques enable the functional analysis of specific genetic variants identified by genome mapping or sequencing, helping provide definitive proof of a gene’s role in controlling a particular trait. Recent major advances in these techniques due to the advent of CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing leave us poised to make rapid progress in many areas of functional genomics.

“Australia hosts dozens of renowned Drosophila research laboratories and this facility will accelerate our rate of discovery and provide us with a unique edge, as well as facilitate the ability of any Australian scientist or clinician to embrace the power of Drosophila genetics to address their research questions”, said Professor Harvey.

Professor Kieran Harvey

“It will also neutralise current disadvantages imposed by geographical isolation which significantly increases the time and cost of generating and accessing the transgenic Drosophila strains essential for our research “, Professor Harvey added.

The facility will consist of state-of-the-art microinjection equipment to routinely and effectively generate a wide range of transgenic Drosophila strains. Australian research centres will benefit considerably from the economies of scale provided by the facility and the increased productivity of their researchers. It will promote collaboration between local researchers and enhance their attractiveness to international collaborators, and will greatly lower the entry cost and technical barriers into Drosophila research for investigators currently using other experimental systems. It will also increase the skill base of research in Australia and provide employment and training opportunities.

The Australian Drosophila Transgenic Facility will be co-led by Prof Kieran Harvey and A/Prof Louise Cheng

Professor Kieran Harvey holds dual appointments at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, where he leads the Organogenesis and Cancer Program, and Monash University, where he runs a laboratory in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology.

Kieran’s team studies organ size control during development, using Drosophila, and how signalling pathways that control organ size are deregulated in human cancer. In particular, his group focuses on the Hippo pathway, which he helped to discover in the early 2000’s.

Kieran performed Doctoral studies with Prof. Sharad Kumar (University of Adelaide) and postdoctoral studies with Prof. Iswar Hariharan (Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical Center and University of California, Berkeley). He holds an NHMRC Investigator grant and was awarded the Gottschalk Medal by the Australian Academy of Science in 2014, for outstanding research in the medical sciences. He is the current president of the Australia and New Zealand Society for Cell and Developmental Biology.

“Phenomics Australia provides essential support to Australian researchers by offering access to a broad range of cutting-edge technologies and expertise. These essential facilities drive innovation and allow Australian researchers to compete internationally. The establishment of the Australian Transgenic Drosophila Facility will allow any Australian scientist or clinician to embrace the power of Drosophila genetics to address their research questions.”

Prof Kieran Harvey

A/Prof Louise Cheng is an ARC Future Fellow (2019-2022), jointly appointed at the Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology and the Department of Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Melbourne, and she is the Head of the Stem Cell Growth Regulation Laboratory at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. A/Prof Cheng completed her PhD at Kings College London in 2006. She established her independent laboratory at Peter Mac in 2012. Her team utilises Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism to investigate 1) how fate is maintained in differentiated neurons to prevent dedifferentiation and tumour initiation, 2) how stem cells interact with their cell niche, and 3) how tumours can grow at the expense of muscles and adipose tissue during cancer cachexia.

A/Prof Louise Cheng

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