Unravelling tumorigenesis and its pathways with Drosophila as a model organism

The Project

During this project, we aim to mimic the long process that starts with basic research all the way to the clinical application of the knowledge gained. We can divide the project into three main steps. First, we will learn about many different genetic tools researchers can use to study the putative genes involved in tumor formation. Second, we will hypothesize, based on the published literature, on the genes and processes implicated in tumorigenesis. Finally, we will propose a working model and search for a way to revert the phenotypes of this disease.

Our starting point will be to learn about the history of the fruit fly in research and understand the particularities of its biology. Nonetheless, this will be a full hands-on experience so we will also explain how to handle the flies, and which are the most important and interesting genetic tools that can be used to manipulate the genome of this model organism.

Students will also be taught how to search for information about cancer, the genes that are involved in this disease, and the main pathways responsible for the tumorigenesis process. From this, they will discover which databases they should use to find the best scientific publications and also repositories that store information about Drosophila melanogaster.

We will also take advantage of established Drosophila melanogaster transgenic flies that express disease-related genes. Using a well-established genetic tool, we will be able to express these genes in specific populations in order to study their effects. To examine the phenotypes shown by the diseased flies and to compare them with that of healthy flies, we will use various techniques such as immunostaining. In order to visualize our immunostainings, we will also go over the basics of confocal microscopy and we will use cutting-edge confocal microscopes. As the last step, students will analyze all the data obtained and perform statistical analysis in order to draw conclusions and acquire new critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They will formulate hypothesizes and think about strategies to decrease or abolish disease related phenotypes, as they do so, they will learn how to perform rescue experiments in order to test their proposed questions. The conclusions obtained from this kind of basic research studies are the first stone of the common ground for later application to humans, to the ultimate benefit of society.

Learning objectives
  • Stimulate critical and structured thinking and problem solving abilities
  • Learn how to plan experiments and generate hypothesis
  • Learn how to work with a model organism (Drosophila flies) to address different issues in biology: classical genetics, generation and use of mutant and transgenic flies
  • Understand the processes that lead to tumorigenesis
  • Extrapolate the obtain results in a model organism to what happens in a human context
  • Be in contact with real techniques performed in labs nowadays (dissections in vivo, immunostainings, advanced microscopy, image processing, statistics, mutant CRISPR generation, genomic PCR and sequencing...)
  • Undestand the work behind research: idealization of the project, posing questions and hypothesis, analysis of data and crafting a presentation (storytelling)
  • Learn how to work in a group
Required materials

Labcoat and laptop

Coordinators of the project

Mariana Muzzopappa

  • Degree in Biology from University of Buenos Aires (UBA) - Argentina
  • PhD in Chemical Sciences at Institute of Biochemical Research, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Study of SCF- E3 protein complexes involved in regulated protein degradation during oogenesis in Drosophila melanogaster.
  • Postdoctoral Researcher at Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) - Barcelona, in Lopez-Schier's laboratory. Use of the zebrafish as a genetic model to understand inner-ear related diseases.
  • Research Associate at Marco Milán's group. Use of Drosophila melanogaster to analyze different aspects of Chromosomal Instability- induced tumorigenesis.
  • Participation in many science activities, international courses and conferences. Research presentation in international congresses and publish my work in peer-reviewed international journals.
  • Tutor for the final research work of many high school students and participation in the last editions of BIYSC.

Panagiotis Giannios

  • Degree in Biochemistry and Biotechnology, University of Thessaly – Greece. PhD in Biological Sciences, Department of Biology, University of Athens NKUA – Greece.
  • Postdoctoral researcher: At the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering UNIWA and the Medical School of the University of Athens NKUA – Greece. Research focus on tissue optics and bio-photonics applied to the diagnosis of human malignancies. At the IRB Barcelona, in Jordi Casanova’s group, research focus on mechanisms regulating stem cell maintenance, growth and differentiation, using Drosophila as a model system.
  • Served for over 5 years as high school tutor of Biology and also appointed as lecturer of Applied Molecular Biology (UNIWA). As a senior project manager and scientific advisor of the science communication NPO SciCo – Gr, has designed, supervised or participated in various projects including broad public science dissemination activities (science festivals etc.) as well as STEM/STEAM educational projects both for school children and other target groups. 

Elena Fusari

  • Degree in Biotechnology at the Alma Mater Studiorum, University of Bologna
  • Erasmus+ at the University of Valencia
  • Master of Science in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the Alma Mater Studiorum, University of Bologna
  • Master Thesis at the IRB Barcelona in Marco Milán’s group
  • Internship at the UCL, London
  •  1st year PhD with a La Caixa fellowship in Marco Milán’s group at the IRB Barcelona
  • Participated in outreach activities at the IRB such as the Open Day to the public 2020
  • Experience with tutoring high school students in Science
The center

The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) is a public institution engaged in basic and applied research at the unique interface between molecular and cell biology, computational and structural biology and chemistry, with experts in proteomics, genomics, biostatistics and