One-two punch knocks out fly genes

Just months after scientists decoded the complete sequence of the Drosophila (fruit fly) genome, a pair of biologists funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences have achieved another significant milestone: the ability to "knock out" fruit fly genes.

"This is something Drosophila scientists have wanted to do for 20 years," said Dr. Kent Golic of the University of Utah, who published the results in the June 16 issue of Science along with postdoctoral fellow Dr. Yikang Rong.

So-called "knock-out" technology is a powerful laboratory method used routinely by scientists working with certain other model systems, such as yeast and mice. But the technology has been sorely missed by the thousands of researchers worldwide who use fruit flies as a research tool to probe mysteries of the biology of plants and animals, including humans.

The new technique offers fly researchers the ability to tease apart the functions of the 13,601 genes in the fruit fly genome. With important genes, Nature has demonstrated an exquisite sense of economy: 177 of the 289 human genes that when "misspelled" are known to cause diseases in people have direct counterparts in the fly.

For decades, fly geneticists have cross-bred strains of flies in order to study their genes. But until now, scientists have not had a way to target a particular fly gene of interest by disabling, or "mutating" that gene.

Thanks to the new work, now these scientists do.

According to Dr. Golic, knocking out fly genes was by no means a sure bet. "It wasn't at all clear that this would work . . . we were scratching our heads about how to find the money to do these experiments," he said.

Dr. Golic's money came from a special NIGMS funding program for "high-risk, high-impact" grants, or R21's as they are called at NIGMS. R21-funded research projects involve high-risk experiments that often have little supporting data but that, if successful, wou

Contact: Alison Davis
NIH/National Institute of General Medical Sciences

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