Fruit Flies From A to Z

The most intimate secrets of the darling of genetics will be laid bare for all to see on the World Wide Web on 17 October. No, it's not a kiss-and-tell; it's the latest edition of The Interactive Fly, an inventory of all the known genes that contribute to the development and growth of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

Clicking through 5000 hypertext links on the site's 1500 pages, visitors can trace the complex web of gene expression and protein action that transforms the fruit fly from a one-celled embryo into a six-legged adult, exactly as the saga unfolds in real-life flies.

Designed for anyone with a college-level biology background, Interactive Fly represents a new way of presenting biological knowledge, says the site's creator, free-lance geneticist Thomas Brody. While understanding of the function and regulation of developmental genes is exploding, there's no centralized catalog that makes sense of it all, Brody says. That's why he set out to build his own catalog, using the fruit fly--developmental biology's best understood organism--as its subject and the Web as its microscope. "Cyberspace is the only place I could imagine that could hold the complexity of gene interaction that really describes an organism," says Brody, who poured 6 months of 17-hour days into the project.

The site's core pages give an overview of fly development, and others list detailed information about the locations of genes in chromosomes, the structure and function of the proteins they encode, and references to the scientific literature. The site's newest sections describe the growing number of fly genes known to have close relatives in other animals, including humans--evidence, researchers are discovering, that the animal kingdom is interwoven genetically by its own worldwide web.