Washington: Human skin and a fruit fly’s exoskeleton, called a “cuticle” may not look alike, but both coverings protect against injury, infection, and dehydration.
The top layers of mammalian skin and insect cuticle are mesh-works of macromolecules, the mammal version consisting mostly of keratin proteins and the fly version predominantly of the carbohydrate chitin.
Yet, the requirement of an outer boundary for protection is so ancient that the outermost cells of both organisms respond to some of the same signals. And because of these signaling similarities, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster serves as a model for wound healing.
A new way to study wound healing in flies suggests new targets for wound-healing drugs.
About 177 million people a year suffer from a wound, an opening that breaks the skin and usually damages the tissue underneath, which may be surgical, traumatic as a burn or laceration, or may be a chronic condition, as with people who have diabetes or those with immune system diseases.
Michelle T. Juarez, PhD, an assistant medical professor at the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education at the City College of New York, presents the doctoral research on wound healing of Rachel A. Patterson, from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). William McGinnis, PhD, distinguished professor of the section of cell and developmental biology at UCSD, completes the research team.
He has been investigating the “biological armor” of the fly for many years.
A desire to understand more about wound healing in people inspired the trio, particularly Patterson.
“My fiance is a firefighter and a member of the U.S. military. Maybe one day our work will influence his medical treatment if he sustains burns or injury wounds,” she said.
The fly is an excellent model to dissect skin repair at a cell and molecular level.
“Many of the key molecules and proteins involved in Drosophila wound healing are involved in mammalian wound healing. The genetics of Drosophila is not as complicated as mammalian genetics, so it’s easier to attribute specific biological functions to individual genes,” Patterson said.
During healing, molecular signals bind to receptors on the cells that line a wound, influencing the cell division, growth, and migration that restores the barrier.