Drosophila and genome-wide association studies: a review and resource for the functional dissection of human complex traits

Dis Model Mech. 2017 Feb 1;10(2):77-88. doi: 10.1242/dmm.027680.


Human genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have successfully identified thousands of susceptibility loci for common diseases with complex genetic etiologies. Although the susceptibility variants identified by GWAS usually have only modest effects on individual disease risk, they contribute to a substantial burden of trait variation in the overall population. GWAS also offer valuable clues to disease mechanisms that have long proven to be elusive. These insights could lead the way to breakthrough treatments; however, several challenges hinder progress, making innovative approaches to accelerate the follow-up of results from GWAS an urgent priority. Here, we discuss the largely untapped potential of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, for functional investigation of findings from human GWAS. We highlight selected examples where strong genomic conservation with humans along with the rapid and powerful genetic tools available for flies have already facilitated fine mapping of association signals, elucidated gene mechanisms, and revealed novel disease-relevant biology. We emphasize current research opportunities in this rapidly advancing field, and present bioinformatic analyses that systematically explore the applicability of Drosophila for interrogation of susceptibility signals implicated in more than 1000 human traits, based on all GWAS completed to date. Thus, our discussion is targeted at both human geneticists seeking innovative strategies for experimental validation of findings from GWAS, as well as the Drosophila research community, by whom ongoing investigations of the implicated genes will powerfully inform our understanding of human disease.

Keywords: Drosophila; Functional genomics; GWAS.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable*