The Duncan Lab

Department of Biology

Willamette University

           Non nobis solum nati sumus


The Duncan lab employs a molecular genetics approach in the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster aimed at understanding the mechanisms that regulate and coordinate microtubule-based transport in the axon. The intracellular transport of organelles, vesicles and macromolecular protein complexes is essential to support a cell’s growth, function, and viability. The necessity for efficient intracellular transport is pronounced in neurons because of their complex architecture that includes a long, narrow axon, which can be orders of magnitude (106-109) longer than the diameter of the cell body. Thus, the axon not only propagates action potentials between the cell body and the synaptic terminal, but also acts as a conduit for the axonal transport of biological materials along cytoskeletal tracks between these discrete and distant cellular compartments.

Drosophila melanogaster is an ideal model system for studying axonal transport. Segmental nerve bundles, comprised of both motor and sensory neurons, emerge from the larval ventral ganglia and innervate the body wall musculature. They are easily accessible, and the microtubules within each axon are polarized, so transport occurs in defined retrograde and anterograde directions. In addition, Drosophila can be easily genetically manipulated, and GFP reporter genes highlighting microtubule dynamics and axonal transport can be expressed in strict spatial and temporal patterns in subsets of segmental nerves.

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Images: A) Confocal micrograph of a Stage17 Drosophila embryo stained with anti-Futsch (mAb 22c10) to highlight the nervous system (Photo: Duncan), B) Wildtype Drosophila wing (Photo: Duncan), C) Spontaneous somatic eye mutation in Drosophila (Photo: Duncan), and D) Scanning electron micrograph of the external genitalia of a wildtype Drosophila adult male (Photo: Zuniga).