(SALT LAKE CITY) -- You think you've got troubles trying to zip your pants after one too many trips to the buffet table? Try having six thighs that rub together. That's what fruit flies must contend with when they over indulge on a diet that's high in fat and calories.
It turns out that even the humble Drosophila is subject to obesity and many of the same metabolic diseases as we humans are, including high cholesterol and diabetes when they make poor dietary choices. Who knew?
There are of course some disparities in the way fruit flies and people pack on the pounds. For one thing, flies are limited in the amount of weight they can gain by their exoskeletons. Carl Thummel, a professor of human genetics at the University of Utah School of Medicine who studies such things for a living, says that if you put fruit flies on a high fat diet and come back a week later to measure how large they've grown, they will be twice as heavy as the control flies that have been subsisting on a lean diet.
"We cannot tell which flies are fat simply by looking at them but that's because we're not fruit flies," he says. "I think if you were a fruit fly in the same vial you might look at them and go, 'Whoa they're fat!'"
Despite the differences, our insect friends can shed light on our struggles with weight. Fruit flies use the same molecular mechanisms as humans to help maintain proper balances of cholesterol and a key form of stored fat that contributes to obesity. As researchers try to learn more about the genetic and biological processes through which people regulate cholesterol and fat metabolism, flies can teach us much about ourselves.
"We don't know a lot about how these mechanisms work in humans, so by studying them in flies we can start to apply what we learn to human models," Thummel says.
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