The development of a complex animal from a single egg cell requires both cell division and cell specialization to produce the different organs and structures required for adult life. In order to be able to complete such developmental programs cells must be able to receive and correctly interpret instructions; instructions that are mediated by a relatively small group of evolutionarily conserved signal transduction pathways. One of these, and the focus of research in the laboratory of Martin Zeidler, MPI for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, is the JAK/STAT pathway. The JAK/STAT signalling pathway plays important roles during early embryonic development and is required for the production of blood cells and the function of the immune system. Furthermore, its mis-activation is responsible for a large proportion of human leukaemias and lymphomas. As such, a better understanding of the pathway and the mechanisms that control its activity is potentially significant to human health. Zeidler and his colleagues use the evolutionary conservation common to all signalling pathways to identify and characterise the regulators of JAK/STAT signalling in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster
. By exploiting the genetic and molecular tools available toDrosophila
researchers they have undertaken screens to identify genes required for pathway activity. They have also undertaken detailed, in depth analysis of a subset of these molecules in their normal developmental context. As such the scientists are improving understanding of this important signalling cascade to allow people to better diagnose and treat the diseases it can produce.