Gene of the Month - Ouija Board

14 November 2016

Interview with 

Kat Arney

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And finally it's time for our Gene of the Month, and because we've just passed Hallowe'en, I've picked the scary-sounding fruit fly gene Ouija Board. In fact, this isn't the only creepily-named gene - it's one of a family of so-called Hallowe'en genes, with names such as spook, spookier, phantom, disembodied, shadow and shade.Ouija Board

Although Ouija Board was discovered in 2015, the rest of its terrifying companions first turned up in the late 1990s, when researchers noticed a series of fruit fly embryos carrying genetic mutations that made them look pale and ghostly, lacking the solid cuticle that normally forms around the developing larvae. Digging down into the detail revealed that the Hallowe'en genes are all involved metamorphosis and moulting in insects and other arthropods, working through hormones called ecdysteroids, which are - as the name suggests - steroid hormones.

It turns out that Ouija Board is responsible for switching on the spookier gene, which encodes an enzyme involved in making ecdysteroids. And although humans obviously don't have sturdy cuticles or exoskeletons we do have steroid hormones that are involved in controlling all kinds of aspects of our health, reproduction and metabolism, and there are similar genes involved. But then they go wrong, they can cause serious illnesses - making this a real life human horror story.

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