IU Bloomington's world-class fruit fly genetic center awarded $2.7M grant renewal

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Indiana University Bloomington's Drosophila Genomics Resource Center a five-year, $2.7 million grant. The award is a continuation of the grant that established the center in 2003 and will carry it into its 20th year of funding.

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The Drosophila Genomics Resource Center is one of three world-class fruit fly research facilities at IU Bloomington. The others are the Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center (pictured) and FlyBase. Photo by IU Communications

The Drosophila Genomics Resource Center is one of three world-class, federally funded facilities at IU that support the use of fruit flies in biological research: the Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center, the Drosophila Genomics Resource Center and FlyBase.

Drosophila is a key "model organism" used in biomedical research, due to the genetic similarity of flies and humans, which share close to 10,000 genes. Over the years, scientists have learned how human and other organisms' genes function by conducting research with Drosophila.

The Drosophila Genomics Resource Center provides the research community with broader access to genomics resources on fruit flies by acquiring, archiving, curating and distributing essential genetic tools to researchers nationally and internationally. The center also supports the development of improved techniques for Drosophila research and tries to generate new resources to benefit the community.

"Having this type of resource center is valuable for the Drosophila community," said Andrew Zelhof, an associate professor in the IU College of Arts and Sciences' Department of a Biology and director of the Drosophila Genomics Resource Center. "The Drosophila community is always developing new resources, and having these items curated in one location improves the access to them and ensures that they will be available for years to come.

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Andrew Zelhof. Photo courtesy of the IU Department of Biology

"We service not only the domestic research community but also the international research community," he added. "People across the whole spectrum of biology are using our resources, and this award will help us continue to do this for another five years."

Zelhof became the director of the Drosophila Genomics Resource Center in 2016. In addition to running the center on a daily basis, one of his first goals was drafting and submitting a grant proposal to ensure the continuation of funding.

"IU has been very supportive of Drosophila research for a really long time," he said. "As home to three centers, IU Bloomington is commonly referred to as the Drosophila capital of the world by biologists."

The Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center maintains 63,000 genetically different fruit fly strains with mutations for research, and the number is ever increasing. The strains are shipped to researchers across the globe. Additionally, FlyBase is the most comprehensive database of fruit fly DNA sequence information in the world. The center consists of two other groups, at Harvard University and at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

Zelhof said that having the centers together on campus also aids in the undergraduate education mission at IU. About eight labs in the Department of Biology rely on tools and resources of all the three centers, and all provide opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in Drosophila research.

"We're kind of the mecca of the fly world," he added. "Having all three centers on campus helps us work together to make sure everybody's aware of all the different resources. That helps individual research labs, helps to increase awareness and helps to have a concentration of experts all in one area."