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New Gene May Help Scientists Understand More About How the Body Grows

Scientists at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and Genetics Institute, Inc. have identified a new gene called derrière that plays a key role in the development of the frog embryo from the neck down, including the neural tube and the muscles flanking the spinal cord. Embryos lacking derrière gene function developed normal heads but only had disorganized tissue where the trunk and tail should have been. Scientists conclude that derrière controls the formation of the posterior regions of the embryo--that is, the entire body from the neck down.

These findings, published in the April issue of the journal Development (available now at (www.biologists.com/development), will help scientists decipher the key genetic events involved in the development of a normal body.

"In addition, because this gene appears to play a pivotal role in inducing precursor tissues that will eventually form muscle, these studies could be useful to complement the efforts by scientists worldwide to regenerate muscle in wasting diseases," says Dr. Hazel Sive, Associate Member of the Whitehead Institute.

The derrière gene is a new member of a large family of genes called TGF-b that plays an important role in many biological functions, including development and cancer. Scientists were surprised to find a member of a familiar gene family performing an unfamiliar function-- inducing normal posterior development in very early embryos--but they are also excited because the finding represents a new window into yet-unexplored aspects of development.

In the study, first author Benjamin Sun and his colleagues at the Whitehead used a yeast-based assay developed by the Cambridge-based biotech company Genetics Institute. The scientists used this assay to look for proteins secreted during the very early stages of development--in human terms, at a stage when the mother may not know she is preg
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Contact: Seema Kumar or Eve Nichols
kumar@wi.mit.edu
617-258-5183
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
12-Mar-1999


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