Fruit flies help researching shiitake mushrooms

The University of Latvia is using fruit flies to research shiitake mushrooms. Turns out substances in the mushrooms help prolonging the fruit flies' lifespan and improving physical abilities. The flies, mere nuisance for many, are useful to scientists and have things in common with human beings, reported Latvian Radio Thursday. 

"There are fruit fly cultures in jars here. They can be grown with various feeding tanks - here we have a commercial fruit fly culture kit with corn flour, but you can also [culture the flies] with bananas," young researcher Elīna Ažēna told Latvian Radio. 

In the basement floor of the Academic Center for Natural Sciences, researchers inquire into how shiitake mushroom extracts impact the growth and development of fruit flies.

"You need a certain wetness, certain kits, a standardized environment, in order to be able to research these substances. The kits are used as a model to see whether the substances found in shiitake mushrooms improve the flies' quality of life," said researcher Dzintra Zaļā.

Elīna Ažēna said that fruit flies are used as they are somewhat similar to human beings. Discoveries related to fruit flies might apply to humans as well, plus you can do much more with fruit flies from an ethical standpoint, she said.

They are researching how substances from shiitake mushrooms impact the flies' lifespan, fertility, the ability to adapt to stress, as well as physical activity.

Ažēna showed Latvian Radio an experiment, the so-called "running experiment". According to her, 50-days old flies feeding on the mushrooms can scale the walls of a tank, while other fruit flies cannot.

Current conclusions of the research, conducted in cooperation with mushroom growers, seem to indicate shiitake mushrooms help fruit flies to withstand higher temperatures and slow down the aging process in terms of physical abilities. 

The project is lead by Natalija Matjuškova, a professor at the Microbiology and Biotechnology Department at the Biology Faculty of the University of Latvia.

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