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One gene provides fruit fly both antenna and color vision

A team of researchers that includes biologists from Washington University in St. Louis has discovered that a gene involved in the development and function of the fruit fly antenna also gives the organism its color vision.

Claude Desplan, Ph.D., professor of biology at New York University, and his students made the discovery and provided the data. Ian Duncan, Washington University professor of biology, and his wife, research assistant Dianne Duncan, provided the Desplan laboratory fruit fly (Drosophila) clones and mutants and technical assistance that helped locate where the gene, called spineless, is expressed in the retina.

The Duncans have a long history with the spineless gene. Their interest has been in the role spineless plays in directing development of the antenna, Drosophila's primary olfactory organ. Years ago, they deleted the spineless gene and found that the mutants then produced a leg instead of an antenna.

"Spineless plays a key role in the antenna and maxillary palp, the two major olfactory organs of the fly," said Ian Duncan. "It's also important in mechanosensory bristles and in the taste receptors of the legs, wings, and mouth parts. There has been a sensory theme to the gene, and now we learn from Claude's work that it plays a key role in color vision."

In humans the closest known homolog (counterpart) is the arylhydrocarbon ('dioxin') receptor, a key protein in human health that senses a wide variety of synthetic compounds and then activates expression of detoxification genes. The dioxin receptor is studied closely in cancer biology and toxicology.

Recently, the Duncans had found a relationship between spineless and a gene called homothorax. Desplan's group had shown that homothorax plays an important role in the Drosophila eye, and after hearing Ian Duncan make a presentation on the homothorax-spineless relationship in t
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Contact: Tony Fitzpatrick
tony_fitzpatrick@wustl.edu
314-935-5272
Washington University in St. Louis
4-Apr-2006


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