Gene of the Month - Van Gogh
And finally, our gene of the month is all arty - it's Van Gogh. A gene found in fruit flies, Van Gogh was first discovered in 1998 by researchers at the University of Virginia. It helps cells to know which way is up - a type of gene known as a tissue polarity gene - and works together with the charmingly-named frizzled and prickle genes. Flies with mutations in Van Gogh have unusual swirly hair and bristle patterns, reminiscent of their namesake's brushwork if you squint a bit and use your imagination.
Van Gogh is also known as Strabismus in flies, and vertebrates including humans have two versions - VANGL1 and VANGL2. Faults in the human version of Van Gogh are linked to problems with developing a structure called the neural tube as a baby grows in the womb, leading to Spina Bifida, as well as being linked to certain cancers including liver cancer. More recent studies have found vertebrate Van Gogh popping up in many different roles in development, so it's definitely a gene that's more than just a pretty picture.