Researchers have found that fruitfly gut stem cells and human intestine stem cells are similar and the regulation of cell control in gut of both are alike. The similarity found between stem cells of fruitfly and humans can help in understanding the mechanims of cell regulation in digestive disorders and stomach cancers in humans. Insects have the same basic structure to their gastrointestinal tract as vertebrates. They have a mouth, an esophagus, the equivalent to a stomach, and large and small intestines. This research was conducted by Professor Benjamin Ohlstein and his team from Carnegie Institute, Embryology Department, which was published in Nature.
The Carnegie researchers looked at their small intestines, where food is broken down into its constituent nutrients for the body to absorb. They focused on two cell types cells that line the small and large intestines in a single layer to help break up and transport food molecules, called enterocytes; and cells that produce peptide hormones, some of whose functions include regulation of gastric motility as well as growth and differentiation of the gut (enteroendocrine cells). In vertebrates, cells of the intestines are continually replenished by stem cells. Up to now, stem cells had not been observed in the gut of the fruitfly. To see if stem cells were at work, the researchers labeled each of the two cell types of interest and observed how successive generations of the cells transformed. They found for the first time that, like their vertebrate cousins, the fly cell types are replenished by stem cells. Moreover, like vertebrates, the stem cells are multipotent, which means that they can turn into different cell types, and Notch signaling is as essential in flies in controlling which intestinal cells form as it is in humans. Notch signaling was also found to instruct stem cells themselves, a role that has as yet to be identified for Notch signaling in vertebrates.