Get a sneak peek of the Annual Drosophila Research Conference Plenary Sessions.

The 62nd Annual Drosophila Research Conference is nearly here! #Dros21 will be packed with the latest Drosophila research, plenty of networking events to reconnect with your fly folk, plus an extensive professional development program. 

All abstracts will be available in early March, but for those who can’t wait that long, here’s a sneak peek of some of the talks from the Plenary Sessions! Don’t forget to register by February 25 to receive the Early Registration discount. You can also learn more about the full lineup of invited speakers at the conference website.


On the trail of the Red Queen: Tales of genetic conflicts

Harmit Malik

The Malik lab studies genetic conflicts that take place between different genomes (e.g., host-virus interactions) or within the same genome (e.g., chromosomal competition at centromeric regions). He is interested in understanding these Red Queen interactions, or “molecular arms races,” and how they drive recurrent genetic innovation. Malik will also discuss personal perspectives on mentoring philosophies that have helped shape his own career and the careers of his trainees.


Investigating the role of SPECC1L Drosophila homolog, Split Discs, in the regulation of non-muscle myosin II contractility

Derek Applewhite

A spectrum of craniofacial disorders are associated with mutations in SPECC1L. The craniofacial phenotypes are suggestive of defects in the migration and adhesion of neural cranial crest cells. Depletion of Drosophila SPECC1L homolog Split Discs (SPDS) leads to proboscis defects and wing blistering. The Applewhite lab has found that SPDS may affect cell migration through regulation of non-muscle myosin (NMII) contractility, with SPDS localizing to NMII and playing a role in focal adhesion dynamics. 

Developmental genetics of regulated exocytosis 

Arash Bashirullah

The stimulus-dependent release of specialized cargoes via regulated exocytosis is a fundamental process in multicellular organisms; however, outside of membrane fusion events occurring during release, this process remains poorly characterized. The Bashirullah lab has identified genes required for secretion that act prior to release, outlining novel cellular pathways that prepare secretory granules for exocytosis.

The evolution of color vision and coloration in butterflies

Adriana Briscoe

Among terrestrial animals that use color as a social signal, there is surprisingly little evidence for the correlated evolution of color vision and coloration. Briscoe will describe the exceptional color vision system of Heliconius butterflies and reveal how the rapid evolution of a new color receptor in the eye together with yellow coloration on the wing is the outcome of both natural and sexual selection.

Drosophila and its parasitic wasps: Understanding the host-parasite interface

Shubha Govind

The more than 50 species of parasitic wasps that attack Drosophila present both potential biocontrol agents and fascinating opportunities for discovery. The Govind lab is investigating manipulation of the host immune system by Leptopilina wasps. The venom of Leptopilina species can suppress Drosophila immunity via protein-packed particles similar to extracellular vesicles. Comparative proteomics of such particles across Leptopilina species with different host specificity are revealing important insights into cellular immunity.

Metabolic regulation of growth and development in Drosophila larvae

Savraj Grewal

In rich nutrients, larvae grow rapidly and develop to pupae in 4–5 days. But when nutrient conditions are poor, growth is reduced and development is delayed. The Grewal lab has discovered a central role for fat body mitochondrial metabolism in the nutrient-dependent control of larval growth and development. Lowering fat body mitochondrial bioenergetic activity remodels adipose glucose metabolism and accelerates whole body growth and development, in part via enhanced systemic insulin signaling. 

Managerial engagement to promote DEI in STEM 

Mala Htun 

Many organizational strategies to promote inclusive climates and advance diversity goals do not have the desired effects. Based on their analysis of what worked to promote diversity in 800 US Corporations across four decades, Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev recommend an approach known as managerial engagement. Htun will outline three strategies putting managerial engagement theory to work in STEM higher education.

Zooming in on gonadogenesis 

Brian Oliver

The most significant differences in the genome and in gene expression among members of a population relate to sex. The Oliver lab explored differences in sex-biased expression in whole animals, tissues, and using single-cell methods. They found remarkable differences in primary spermatocytes, with inactivation of the X and 4th chromosomes and activation of Y-linked gene expression. 

Kids conquering cancer: Celebrating culture to reduce health disparities

Alana O’Reilly

Using a large-scale citizen science approach, the eCLOSE Institute aims to develop diets that optimize health and reduce disease, with a particular focus on patients from backgrounds experiencing egregious health disparities. Participants conduct reverse genetics nutrient screens in Drosophila, choosing dietary interventions and diseases based on relevance to their own families and communities. This inclusive community effort has greatly increased student interest in research careers.

Cell wound repair: Dealing with life’s daily traumas

Susan M. Parkhurst

A cell’s plasma membrane can be damaged by disease, clinical interventions, trauma, and daily wear-and-tear. Within minutes of injury, wounded cells are repaired by dynamic changes of the membrane/cortical cytoskeleton. The Parkhurst lab has established the early syncytial Drosophila embryo as a robust cell wound repair model and are investigating the major steps that are essential to return cells to their pre-wounded states.

How flies get fat: From genes to neurons

Tânia Reis

How do organisms balance energy expenditure and fat storage? The Reis lab uses Drosophila larvae to investigate energy homeostasis and obesity, including inter-organ communication between the brain and fat body. They are investigating how several RNA-binding proteins regulate fat mobilization, as well as their contribution to sexual dimorphism in fat storage. They have also identified the brain as a signaling nexus for learning/memory and fat storage, with Arc1 as a potential mediator.

More than skin deep: Using transparent animals to probe neuronal polarity

Melissa Rolls

Prototypical neurons have dendrites that receive information and axons that send it. What underlies the evolutionarily conserved ability to generate two different types of compartments from materials made in a central cell body? Using Drosophila and the transparent sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, the Rolls lab have shown that microtubule layout is critical for directing polarity of neurons into axons and dendrites across evolution. 

The Bloom syndrome helicase trilogy

Jeff Sekelsky

Using the Dark Knight trilogy as a model, Sekelsky will describe the dual personas of Blm helicase. Is Blm a cancer-blocking, mitotic crossover-fighting hero? Or a villain thwarting the female meiotic crossovers needed for proper chromosome segregation? The Sekelsky lab finds that Blm is needed both to promote a major non-crossover repair pathway and to make meiotic crossovers meiotic. A sequel in production tells a tale explaining crossover interference.

The evolution of novelty by small steps and giant leaps: A tale of two toxins 

Noah Whiteman

The Modern Synthesis posits that adaptation proceeds through gradual steps up adaptive peaks, largely ignoring examples of sudden leaps to peaks that were previously inaccessible. But these disparate processes may be two sides of the same coin. The Whiteman lab found diverse insects have co-opted two toxins—heart poisons from plants and DNAses from bacteria—as natural defenses. These adaptations require both small steps and giant leaps to explain their origin and elaboration.

Genetic dissection of egg-laying decisions 

Rebecca Yang 

Value-based decision-making allows animals to optimize how they acquire and allocate precious resources. The Yang lab uses egg-laying site selection by Drosophila females as a model to study the neural and genetic basis of value-based decision-making. They are investigating how females are able to reject an acceptable but less preferred option according to recent experience and how they are able to remember the location of the preferred option.