It may surprise you but your heart is nothing new. Insects that evolved nearly half a billion years ago had already developed beating hearts. Much of the genetic machinery that controls our own heart beat and heart’s contraction has been conserved during evolutionary time – nature has not deemed it necessary to change it much. OK, the scale and shape of our hearts has changed a little since flies evolved but the molecular mechanics underpinning each heart beat haven’t. This means we can use flies and their genetics to understand human hearts. This is especially useful for ageing research when other models are simply too challenging to manipulate. Research work funded both in the UK by the British Heart Foundation and the USA by the National Institutes of Health is now being summarised in this review. The image shows the Drosophila (fruit fly) heart tube (HT) with associated kidney-like cells either side of it (purple) and alary muscles which act like guy ropes, pinning the heart to the fly’s abdomen. Remember this the next time you wash your car’s window-screen – you’re scraping away a lot of very cool biology!
Dr. Paul S. Hartley – your local ‘heart Drosophilist’