Drug Discovery in Fish, Flies, and Worms

ILAR J. 2016 Dec;57(2):133-143. doi: 10.1093/ilar/ilw034.


Nonmammalian model organisms such as the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, and the zebrafish Danio rerio provide numerous experimental advantages for drug discovery including genetic and molecular tractability, amenability to high-throughput screening methods and reduced experimental costs and increased experimental throughput compared to traditional mammalian models. An interdisciplinary approach that strategically combines the study of nonmammalian and mammalian animal models with diverse experimental tools has and will continue to provide deep molecular and genetic understanding of human disease and will significantly enhance the discovery and application of new therapies to treat those diseases. This review will provide an overview of C. elegans, Drosophila, and zebrafish biology and husbandry and will discuss how these models are being used for phenotype-based drug screening and for identification of drug targets and mechanisms of action. The review will also describe how these and other nonmammalian model organisms are uniquely suited for the discovery of drug-based regenerative medicine therapies.

Keywords: Caenorhabditis elegans; Danio rerio; Drosophila melanogaster; chemical biology; drug screening; phenotype-based screening; regenerative medicine; target-based screening.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology
  • Drug Discovery*
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays
  • Humans