Of flies and man: Drosophila as a model for human complex traits

Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 2006;7:339-67. doi: 10.1146/annurev.genom.7.080505.115758.


Understanding the genetic and environmental factors affecting human complex genetic traits and diseases is a major challenge because of many interacting genes with individually small effects, whose expression is sensitive to the environment. Dissection of complex traits using the powerful genetic approaches available with Drosophila melanogaster has provided important lessons that should be considered when studying human complex traits. In Drosophila, large numbers of pleiotropic genes affect complex traits; quantitative trait locus alleles often have sex-, environment-, and genetic background-specific effects, and variants associated with different phenotypic are in noncoding as well as coding regions of candidate genes. Such insights, in conjunction with the strong evolutionary conservation of key genes and pathways between flies and humans, make Drosophila an excellent model system for elucidating the genetic mechanisms that affect clinically relevant human complex traits, such as alcohol dependence, sleep, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Drosophila
  • Humans
  • Models, Animal*
  • Multifactorial Inheritance*
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable