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Development and function of the retina in Drosophila



Project Description

Dr. Britt studies photoreceptor cell-fate determination and the regulation of visual pigment gene expression in Drosophila.  The compound of eye of Drosophila is highly patterned and has been used extensively as a model system in developmental biology. His laboratory has found that the cell fate and visual pigment expression pattern of adjacent photoreceptor cells is tightly coordinated. It appears that one retinal cell type in the eye adopts one of two different cell fates in a stochastic (random) manner, and then communicates this decision (inductively) to the adjacent photoreceptor cell. These events coordinate the expression of the visual pigments in these two cells, and produce two types of optical units within the eye that have distinct color sensitivities. To examine this process at a genetic and molecular level, his laboratory has identified a collection of mutants that have a variety of defects in eye development. These mutants define genes that are required for the normal patterning of the eye. One group of mutants shows defects in the stochastic determination event, and another group has defects in the inductive signal between adjacent cells. They are currently characterizing these mutations and beginning the molecular analysis of the affected genes.
The Britt lab is also examining how the structures of different visual pigments regulate their color sensitivity. They have identified specific amino acid residues that are responsible for regulating UV vs. visible and blue vs. green sensitivity. Interestingly, these same amino acid sites in human and other vertebrate visual pigments are also responsible for tuning color sensitivity. Mutations at these sites may also lead to inherited forms of blindness. In addition, these same amino acid sites in human neurotransmitter receptors regulate the binding of transmitters and drugs as well as receptor activation.

Mentor Name

Britt, Steven G.

Mentor Location

Research Complex I South, Room 12100

Mentor Contact Number


Mentor Contact Email


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Preceptor Name





Cell and Developmental Biology

Funding Department/Program

Vision Sciences

Area of Study

Developmental Neuroscience, Brain and Behavior - Child; Vision Sciences




Animal Models; Biomolecular Structure and Biochemistry; Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, and Genetics

Disease or Symptom

Eye Disease

Faculty/Lab Website

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Created at 7/27/2010 10:14 AM by Vetter, Stephanie
Last modified at 8/30/2012 4:06 PM by Watts, Katie