And finally, our gene of the month is the hollow-sounding Tinman, whimsically named after the character in the Wizard of Oz who’s rather lacking in the heart department. Tinman was first discovered in the late 1980s by Dr Rolf Bodmer, who discovered a gene that was particularly active in the tiny dorsal vessels of fruit flies - the insect equivalent of a heart. Unfortunate fruit fly embryos with a faulty version of the gene lack a dorsal vessel, and obviously don’t get very far in life.
Over the following years, researchers discovered the mammalian version of the gene, which was given the rather less whimsical name of Nkx2-5. Mice lacking this gene in their heart cells have several problems including cardiomyopathy - problems with the heart muscle - and problems with keeping a regular heartbeat.
These symptoms are familiar to cardiologists dealing with families with a strong history of heart defects and sudden heart attacks at a young age, and in 2004, researchers discovered that these families are afflicted by inherited faults in the human version of Tinman. Scientists are now taking this discovery forwards by trying to develop drugs that target some of the molecular pathways that Tinman is involved in, which could help people with heart disease in the future.