By Adrienne Moore

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Sacramento State scientists are looking to unlock the mystery of autism through fruit flies.

A biological sciences professor is using the insects to determine how environmental toxins play a role in the cause of autism.

Dr. Kimberly Mulligan says the tiny bugs share 75 percent of the genes associated with human disease. Their lifespan is short, which leads to faster results.

“A lot of the molecular pathways that guide how our brains develop are similar in a fruit fly and a human,” she said. “If we can create a system that would allow us to screen those chemicals more quickly to give more hints as to what chemicals might deter brain development, it would actually provide preventative measures.”

To evaluate brain abnormalities after exposure, scientists will focus on two things: dissection of the insect’s brain and mating behaviors.

According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, one in 68 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism.

When Harjinder Sidhu heard the troubling statistics, the biomedical sciences major wanted to be a part of the solution.

“Just to see how hard their life is compared to ours and how much we take for granted—it’s heartbreaking, you know? And I wanted to do something that I can help,” he said.

While the subjects may be small, they carry hope of groundbreaking results.

“If we establish this model, not only can we screen through different chemicals, we can screen through different genes that are implicated in autism. So, the combination is pretty cool,” Mulligan said.

Adrienne Moore