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7 Drosophila melanogaster: A Case Study of a Model Genomic Sequence and Its Consequences

Michael Ashburner, Casey M. Bergman


It is almost 100 years since william castle introduced Drosophila melanogaster to the pleasures and rigors of biological research (Castle 1906). Four major phases of Drosophila research can, perhaps, be distinguished. The period ~1910–1940 of classical genetic analysis was one of rapid development in which most of the major principles of classical genetics were established: the chromosome theory of heredity, the nature of genetic linkage and genetic maps, the genetic behavior of chromosome aberrations, the induction of gene and chromosome mutations by radiation, the discovery of mitotic recombination, and so on. This was followed by a long period, ~1940–1968, of growth but relative sterility, a period in which many of the best minds in genetics turned their attention to microbes and phage. The period from, roughly, ~1968–2000 was a renaissance, witnessed by many molecular biologists moving into the field, creating an analytical, rather than descriptive, study of development and behavior. This metamorphosis was fueled by many major technical advances within the field, for example, the invention of in situ hybridization, of the P-element-based transformation technology, of powerful methods for clonal analysis, the discovery of potent chemical mutagens, and by the extraordinary external advances in molecular biology. New generations of researchers selected Drosophila as a model organism for the study of fundamental problems in biology. From 2000, fly research has matured into its fourth period: the genome era, for, on March 24, 2000 the first release of the “complete” genomic sequence of Drosophila melanogaster was published, timed to...

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