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No rest for weary fruit flies

Strain could help researchers track genetic factors that lead to insomnia

4:56pm, June 2, 2009

A new strain of fruit flies bred to have trouble getting shut-eye may open researchers eyes to the genetic causes of insomnia.

Not so long after scientists discovered that fruit flies sleep, Paul Shaw of Washington University in St. Louis and his colleagues bred a strain of Drosophila melanogaster to have many of the characteristics, and complications, of insomnia in people. Shaw’s team bred 60 generations of fruit flies, selecting for flies that slept the shortest amount of time. The resulting insomniac fruit flies may help scientists find genetic roots of the sleep disorder, the team reports in the June 3 Journal of Neuroscience.

There is a fine line between insomnia and sleep deprivation, says Thomas Roth, a sleep researcher at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Insomniacs lack the ability to fall asleep and sleep well (though Shaw and his colleagues think such people may be protected from many of the negative effects of sleeplessness).

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