Some parts of the body are more sensitive to environmental change than others, which may lead to better ways of treating a variety of diseases, including type-2 diabetes.
Alexander Shingleton, assistant professor in zoology at the Michigan State University, is studying fruit flies to figure out why some of their body parts will grow to full size even when suffering from malnutrition, while others will not.
He said that a person’s brain will grow to near full size despite malnutrition or other environmental or non-genetic problems.
Shingleton uses fruit flies because they use the same genes to control this process as humans, the journal Proceedings of the Library of Science Genetics reports.
“If we know how we can control sensitivity to environmental issues such as malnutrition, we can, in principle, manipulate genes that are regulating that sensitivity,” Shingleton said.
“Genes can be activated so they can actually restore sensitivity,” he added, according to a Michigan statement.
Type-2 diabetes is a good example of the body’s insensitivity to non-genetic issues. The most common form of diabetes, type-2, occurs when the body becomes insensitive to insulin, which is released in response to blood sugar levels. The body needs insulin to be able to use glucose for energy.
“In diabetes, that response is suppressed,” Shingleton said. “We get de-sensitisation. We know people become insulin resistant, but we’re not quite sure why.”