University Technical College students visit the Fly Facility
Around sixty year 11 students from the University Technical College (UTC Cambridge) visited the Department of Genetics Fly Facility on October 21st. UTC Cambridge is a specialist science college for 14-19 year olds that was founded in September 2014. The visit was part of the college’s Microscopy Challenge project, which also included a trip to the Gurdon Institute Imaging Facility.
The UTC students visited the Fly Lab in three group and met Simon Collier (Fly Facility manager) and Elke Malzer, a postdoc from Stefan Marciniak’s lab at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research who uses Drosophila as a research model.
Elke uses Drosophila to better understand how cells deal with stress that occurs in the context of a whole organism. This is relevant to a variety of human diseases such as Alzheimer’s or cancer. Elke has performed a Drosophila screen that identified a novel gene in this pathway. The same gene has now been shown to be part of the mammalian pathway, confirming the value of the Drosophila model. Elke showed the students the fly model she used in this screen and explained how it was made, and the screening process. She also explained how straightforward it is to make transgenic flies and to target the production of any protein to selected tissues of the adult fly. The students used a fluorescence microscope to look at a fly that produces a red fluorescence tagged protein in the eye. This was not only fun for the students, but also made these concepts easily graspable.
Simon talked about the variety of work done in the Fly Facility including how transgenic Drosophila are made by injecting fly eggs. The students were shown several Drosophila mutants under the microscope, including transformation mutants of the type identified by Nobel Prize winner Ed Lewis. The students saw flies with extra wings, flies with no wings, bald flies and, of course, flies with legs growing out of their heads. They also got to see (and smell) a fly incubator that holds thousands of fly stocks belonging to Cambridge Drosophila researchers.
A few weeks earlier (September 22nd), Simon visited UTC-Cambridge and gave a 50- minute presentation on Drosophila to the same group of students. The talk included a short history of Drosophila research, a description of the fly’s life cycle and development, as well as an introduction to the FlyBase database and a discussion of some interesting fly genes. The talk was intended to prepare the students for their Drosophila project work and for their visit to the Fly Facility.
We thank Glynnis Johnson for providing some of her Drosophila ‘pets’ for us to show to the UTC students.