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Gut Stem Cells

November 17, 2011

Overfeeding fruit flies sets off a chain reaction that makes their intestine grow.



How to grow a gut.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When we eat a lot, our digestive systems actually get bigger.  Now, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley may have found out why.  Biologist David Bilder and his colleagues studied fruit flies.  When fed, the flies’ gut cells make their own insulin, which activates nearby stem cells. 

DAVID BILDER (University of California, Berkeley):

And it both increases the division rates of the stem cells, and also makes it more likely that they will produce new stem cells.


Having extra stem cells, in turn, makes it possible to grow the gut rather than just maintain it.  In the Berkeley experiment, led by Bilder and postdoc Lucy O’Brien, the flies’ guts grew up to four times bigger in as many days.  The findings could  lead to better treatments for obesity, and for rebuilding intestinal tissue lost to disease or injury.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.