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Undergraduate unraveling genetic mysteries in fruit flies

Studying mutations in bugs salivary gland could yield clues to human development

A biomedical engineering major at The Johns Hopkins University has been breeding mutant fruit flies and studying their offspring to help find a gene responsible for thwarting the bugs development. Supported by an undergraduate research grant from the university, Christy A. Comeaux, 21, is working with a prominent cell biologist whose research into the way fruit fly embryos create salivary glands could shed light on the development of human organs.

Many of the genes in fruit flies are very similar to human genes, said Comeaux, a Johns Hopkins junior and a 1999 graduate of Port Neches-Groves High School in Texas. By studying how these genes work, we can come to a better understanding of how genetic mechanisms work in humans.

Comeaux gained her first genetics lab experience by working at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston during the summer of 2000. When she returned for her sophomore year at Johns Hopkins, she looked for a related research job and joined the lab team directed by Deborah J. Andrew, an associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Because of my summer job, Id had some training in genetic research techniques, but I had never worked with fruit flies, Comeaux said. Luckily, I was surrounded by many people in the Andrew lab who were very patient and willing to answer my questions.

The undergraduate soon learned how to breed flies that carry a genetic mutation. The bugs meet inside a plastic bottle. The underside of the bottles stopper is coated with a sticky substance that collects the fertilized eggs. Comeaux learned to apply an antibody stain to these fly embryos to identify the cells that are forming the insects salivary gland. Under a high-powered microscope she was able to see how a genetic mutation can distort the shape of the developing gland and impair its
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Contact: Phil Sneiderman
prs@jhu.edu
410-516-7907
Johns Hopkins University
2-Mar-2002


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