Science Humor for Sunday! Decipher the funny codes in fruit fly research 🙂
Originally shared by Buddhini Samarasinghe
Curiosities of fly genes
The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is one the most studied organisms in genetics and developmental biology. The scientists who pioneered the field of Drosophila genetics displayed an astonishing degree of creativity when it came to naming the genes they have discovered. Some of these names have very interesting stories attached to them.
• Sevenless, Bride of Sevenless, Daughter of Sevenless and Son of Sevenless: The sevenless gene (sev) is involved in the development of the fly’s compound eye. The name derives from the fact that there are eight photoreceptor cells, and the R7 photoreceptor is the last to differentiate (seven less to go?). The gene encodes a receptor tyrosine kinase protein. The ligand (activator) for this receptor is known as the bride of sevenless gene (boss). When another gene downstream of this signalling cascade was discovered, it was promptly named son of sevenless (sos). The gene daughter of sevenless (dos) is also a substrate for the Sevenless kinase.
• Hedgehog, indian hedgehog, desert hedgehog, sonic hedgehog and tiggywinkle hedgehog: The origin of the hedgehog gene name is fairly self-explanatory – flies with mutant versions of this gene had spiny projections all over their body, just like a hedgehog. Scientists then tried to see if the same genes could be found in humans and mammals. They discovered not one, but three matching genes (giving them three opportunities for coming up with creative names!). The first two were called indian hedgehog (IHH) and desert hedgehog (DHH), which are actual species of hedgehogs. The third was called sonic hedgehog (SHH) after the Sega video-game character. When the matching gene was discovered in Zebrafish, another important model organism, it was named ‘tiggywinkle hedgehog’ after Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, a character from Beatrix Potter’s books for children.
• Mothers against decapentaplegic: The gene decapentaplegic (dpp) belongs to the TGF-β superfamily of signalling molecules. When a cell receives the dpp signal, a receptor is able to activate a downstream intracellular protein called mothers against dpp (mad). The gene also displays a ‘maternal effect enhancement’, and is thus named humorously since mothers often form organizations opposing various issues such as ‘Mothers Against Drunk Driving’.
• I’m not dead yet: This one is probably my favourite. The gene name is indy, which stands for ‘I’m not dead yet’, inspired by Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The phrase is uttered by a supposed plague victim being hauled off for burial while still alive (http://youtu.be/Sh8mNjeuyV4). Mutant copies of the indy gene allows the fly to live twice its natural lifespan.
• Tinman: Mutations of the tinman gene result in embryos that have no heart, similar to the character in ‘The Wizard of Oz’.
• Pray for elves: The pfe gene encodes a serine/threonine kinase. Suzanna Lewis, working in the FlyBase release 3 annotation project in 1995, writes about naming the gene: “It is the middle of the night (2:38 to be precise), I am away from friends and family, It has been this way for over 2 years, I can’t sleep because of all the work there is yet to do, and there is no end in sight. So when do the magic little elves appear out of nowhere and get everything done?”
• Ken and Barbie: This gene encodes a transcriptional repressor protein, responsible for down-regulating JAK/STAT target genes. Mutations in the ken and barbie locus are accompanied by malformed genitalia in adult flies. Male and female genitalia often remain inside the body, similar to the plastic dolls which inspired the name.
• Cheap Date: Flies with mutant copies of this gene produce low levels of cyclic AMP, and are especially likely to get inebriated when exposed to ethanol vapors.
• Prune and Killer of Prune: Mutations that inactivate the prune gene (pn) result in flies with purple coloured eyes. Mutations of the killer of prune (K-pn) gene causes no phenotype by itself, but kills flies that have two copies of the prune gene (hence the name, killer of prune).
Contribution to #sciencesunday , curated by Allison Sekuler and Robby Bowles
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Thanks Rajini Rao for the idea for this post!
Photo Credit: Steve Gschmeissner/ Science Photo Library