Posted in eksujujp

A gory tale behind the origin of Halloween genes

first_imgDuring the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens and the shades of evening drew on, a sense of insufferable gloom fell on geneticist Michael O’Connor. He was looking at decaying embryos of fruit flies in his lab that had mutations in genes known as disembodiment and ghost, mummy and haunted, shroud and phantom, spook and shadow. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime, when it came to him with a power that lies beyond our depth. “These are Halloween genes!” he declared, trembling at the realization that he had coined a catchy scientific phrase. And from that shadowy day forward in the late 1990s, so they have been known far and wide.OK, that’s not exactly what happened, and apologies to Edgar Allan Poe. But O’Connor, who heads the genetics department at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis did dub disembodiment, ghost, and their creepy, ghoulish kin “Halloween genes.” In what became an iconic image—in his lab at least—one of the postdocs, Marcela Chavez, drew a fly on a witch’s broom. A native Spanish speaker, Chavez remembers cracking everyone up at one lab meeting when a misspelling in her presentation read “Hallowing” genes.The identification and naming of the genes themselves came out of a massive screen for mutants in the fly embryonic genome that led to the Nobel Prize in 1995. One of the winners, Ed Lewis, was a friend of O’Connor’s. “Ed was a big Halloween person,” O’Connor says. “He’d spend all year making his Halloween costumes.” A fan of Belgian surrealist René Magritte, Lewis would dress as characters from his paintings, including the man in a leopard print caveman garb holding a barbell in Perpetual Motion and the man with a birdcage chest and straw hat in The Therapist. Email Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwecenter_img Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) O’Connor once held a symposium for Lewis that included a costume party. “There were many flies there,” O’Connor says.O’Connor’s department also had a tradition of dressing up on Halloween and going trick or treating. He never went as a fly, but one year he did go as a mite, what he called those “nasty things” as they can infest Drosophila cultures, rendering as much blood-curdling mayhem as visit by the Grim Reaper himself.Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, a fly geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, who shared the Nobel Prize with Lewis, was part of the group that by 1984 had published many of the Halloween genes. She says that her collaborator Gerd Jürgens was “mostly concerned with them” and chose their names. “We did not give the names much thought,” recalls Jürgens, who is with the University of Tübingen. “We had a fairly large number of genes to name.”The Drosophila field has a tradition of naming genes after the related physical trait. “It gets a little imaginative,” O’Connor says. In the case of the Halloween genes, Nüsslein-Volhard, Jürgens, and their colleagues noticed that mutations in several genes led to embryos that at an early stage of development did not properly form what’s known as a cuticle, the critical structure of the larval body. Under the microscope, they grisly noted “no differentiation of cuticle and head skeleton” (disembodied), “only head skeleton visible” (haunted), and “mouth parts and denticles poorly differentiated” (mummy).O’Connor says he “stumbled” into disembodied several years after it was discovered when he was, eerily enough, studying how cells moved in the embryo. Working with a group led by insect biochemist Lawrence Gilbert at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, O’Connor’s team worked out the details of how the Halloween genes were enzymes that helped synthesize a hormone, ecdysone, responsible for molting. “It was really quite strange and quite unique in that every experiment we did worked,” says Gilbert, who is 87 and retired. “This was a monumental step in our study of fruit flies.”As for the phrase “Halloween genes,” “it was a good name and people remembered it,” Gilbert says. “It made us both a little more famous.” And for scientists who spend much of their careers working on something as obscure as embryonic ecdysone synthesis in Drosophila melanogaster, a little bit of fame is a real treat.last_img read more

Continue Reading... A gory tale behind the origin of Halloween genes