The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has emerged as one of the most prominent and promising model systems for pioneering integrative, systems-level approaches to animal development. These approaches use quantitative data to guide, test and constrain mathematical models of developmental processes. A growing number of questions and phenomena have been and are being investigated in this way, from the structure and function of cis-regulatory elements involved in transcriptional control of gene expression, to the dynamics and topology of gene regulatory networks, to the biophysical properties of morphogen gradients and their effect on patterning and growth.
Most studies so far have focused on specific developmental processes—such as the egg and early embryo as well as the wing imaginal disc of Drosophila—but the insights gained from them are of wide-ranging interest to developmental and systems biologists outside the Drosophila community. The molecular components and architecture of developmental processes and gene regulatory networks are highly conserved across metazoans. Therefore, detailed quantitative understanding of these processes in the fly will have direct and important consequences for developmental biology in general, and biomedically related studies of human developmental diseases in particular.
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