In the Warr lab we are interested in how cells detect signals from the environment or from each other both during development and in the adult organism. Understanding this is critical because dysregulation of cell signalling underlies many of the major diseases that afflict society, including cancer and obesity. Many of these signalling pathways are highly conserved between Drosophila and humans, and indeed many of the known molecular players were first identified using the powerful genetic approaches possible in Drosophila. Thus our findings are highly likely in the longer term to be translatable to humans and to understanding human growth disorders and cancer. Drosophila researchers have at hand many sophisticated genetic and molecular approaches available to study gene function, and to discover new genes involved in biological processes of interest.

We study cell signalling in a number of biological contexts, during embryo development, during growth and metabolism, and in the olfactory system. All of these are collaborative projects involving other researchers. As well as studying fundamental cell signalling we are also involved in collaborations to use the fly as a model organism for functional genomics to study human disease, in particular in disease gene discovery.

Current work in the lab is in the following main areas:

Characterisation of novel neuropeptide receptors involved in controlling growth and fat storage

In animals developmental timing and growth are controlled by steroid hormones that are under complex regulation by both developmental and environmental cues. We have performed a forward genetic screen to identify new candidate neuropeptide receptors involved in controlling growth. We are currently validating these and characterising how confirmed hits act in controlling growth, as well as screening the same genes for roles in fat storage

Staff and students involved:

Jane Kannangara – PhD student

Melissa Saligari – PhD student

Dr Linda Parsons – Research Fellow

Dr Michelle Henstridge – NHMRC Early Career Research Fellow hosted in the Mirth lab

Collaborating labs – Dr Christen Mirth, Professor Tony Tiganis (Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute)



Control of growth factor signalling by the MACPF protein Torso-like

The perforin-like protein Torso-like is well known for its role in controlling receptor tyrosine kinase signalling in fly embryo terminal patterning. We have also found Torso-like has several other roles, in particular in growth and in immune cell development. Torso-like controls several crucial cell signalling pathways, and we are studying each of its roles to gain further insights into the mechanism by which it functions. 


Staff and students involved:

Daniel Bakopoulos – PhD student

Collaborating labs – Dr Travis Johnson (hosted in Warr lab), Prof James Whisstock (Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute), Prof Peter Dearden (University of Otago)

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Characterising genes that coordinate nutritional information with metabolic and growth signalling pathways

The genetic basis for obesity and accompanying metabolic syndromes is poorly defined. Simplistically, obesity arises due to defects in mechanisms that sense and/or regulate the metabolic state of the individual; and/or defects in satiety/fat storage centers. The correct formation of organs and overall body size requires that nutritional information be sensed and communicated in a coordinated manner to both metabolic and growth signalling pathways. Mutations in genes that alter or modify such signaling mechanisms are likely to lead to either obese or excessively thin individuals, with accompanying health problems.

We have identified members of the Salt-inducible kinase family as nutrient sensing pathway genes that are also critical for cell and organ growth in both flies and mammals. We are studying how these genes function to coordinate nutritional information with both energy production and growth, as well as screening for novel genes involved in links between metabolism and growth.

Staff and students involved:

Arani Azim – PhD student

Jade Kannangara – PhD student

Dr Linda Parsons – Research Fellow

Collaborating labs – Professor Roger Daly (Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute)

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