Who would have thought fruit-flies could teach us important facts about the future! The research project of Dr. Subhash Rajupurohit, an evolutionary physiologist by training, from the School of Arts and Sciences’ Biological and Life Sciences aspires to do just that, learn from the fruit-flies. His research revolves around an investigation of the manner in which physiological systems evolve in differing environmental contexts, and it does so through the use of the Drosophila genus of flies as a model organism. His project has been active for several years now, and during its initial leg, Rajpurohit conducted extensive analysis on how particular traits varied with his sample subjects from around India. For instance, analysis would be conducted to test how something like drought or starvation resistance differed between the flies and to what extent this could be traced back to the region in which they had evolved. How quickly had these adaptations taken place? What changes had occurred in physical appearance and why? Had there been any changes at the molecular level?
The outcome of trying to answer these many questions was the establishment of a remarkably extensive taxonomy of India’s fruit-flies and the physiological differences between them. Although not initially envisioned as a goal of the project, this vast aggregation of data was perceived to be of general scientific value, and Rajpurohit decided to make it public by collating his findings into an interactive website for the general audience. It can be accessed here: http://www.rajpurohit-lab.org/drosocline.html
Once this data had been acquired and sorted through, it was possible to use it to conduct further analysis. Thus, Rajpurohit’s project embarked on its next phase, where the idea was to use the knowledge and test subjects that had been collected to try and predict how their physiology would react to a 3 – 4 degree temperature rise in their environment. The background context here is clearly that of climate-change and the likely consequences that it will have for our world. Answering the question of how such a rise would affect the physiology of fruit-flies will allow one to conceive whether (and in what conditions) they would even survive such a shift. Moreover, given their physiological similarities, the results obtained for fruit-flies would also hold for many other insect species and such data would allow one to begin modelling the kind of large-scale effects that climate change might have on the subcontinent’s ecosystems. Of course, in order to have cogent predictions, they must be based on very firm results. To ensure this, the project involves a series of wide-ranging experiments. From extrapolating data based on how flies react to small changes in their environment’s temperature, to observing the effects of changes in their molecular genetics, it is to be a thorough, well rounded study.
Now, having recently been granted the prestigious Ramanujan fellowship, Professor Rajpurohit’s project seems all set to dive into its next phase. Given the gravity of climate change as an issue and the fact that little has been looked into in terms of its possible effects on India’s different habitats, the results obtained here are likely to be of great significance. Moreover, such research will help form a foundation for further investigations into this crucial field of study.
Keywords: fruit-fly, climate change, evolutionary physiology, rapid adaptations, metabolic ecology, spatiotemporal variations