By WVUA Web Writer Gracie Dover

Gentle exercise on a wheel can have beneficial effects on fruit flies. Findings may be good news for humans as well.

A new study led by corresponding author Dr. Laura Reed, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Alabama, suggests a device called the TreadWheel can be used to study the benefits of exercise on Drosophila, otherwise known as fruit flies.

“With this study, we have established the TreadWheel as a useful tool to study the effect of exercise in flies, shown significant genotype-specific and sex-specific impacts of exercise and have laid the groundwork for for extensive studies on how genetics, sex, environment and aging interact to influence metabolic fitness in Drosophila,” Reed said.

Scientists in two labs, one at UA and one at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, used two identical TreadWheels invented by UA grad Sean Mendez.

Vials containing fruit flies were placed on wheels rotating slowly, creating a constant gravitational change the impelled the fruit flies to climb. The fruit flies represented both sexes and several different genotypes including weight and activity level. The flies engaged in five-day sessions of gentle exercise.

“Flies are intrinsically motivated to move to the top of their enclosures,” Reed said. “Thus, the TreadWheel induces exercise in adult Drosophila by slowly turning their enclosures.”

The results concluded that across all genotypes, the TreadWheel helped to reduce fruit flies’ weight, increased metabolism and improved climbing ability.

In addition, researchers saw effects of exercise on “gene expression,” how a genetic trait is expressed in a fruit-fly body. The expression patterns indicated a modified mitochondrial function, meaning exercise can influence how genes affect the body’s metabolism.

The ultimate goal of is to study how exercise influences how genes are expressed in humans in order to fight obesity.

“Some people enjoy and respond well to exercise as a method to maintain a healthy body weight,” Reed said. “By understanding how certain factors affect fruit flies, we will also develop a better understanding of how they affect people.”

In addition to Reed, the co-authors of the paper Mendez, Rachel Hill, and Meredith Owens of UA; and Louis Wantanbe, Jason Moraczewski, Glenn C. Rowe and Nicole C. Riddle of UAB.

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