Gene of the Month: Spock
Named after the pointy-eared first officer of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek, Spock is one of a number of genetic mutations that affect hearing in zebrafish. And yes, it does give them little pointy ears.
It may seem strange, but these little fish do have ears and an auditory system. Spock is just one of a number of zebrafish mutations involved in ear development that were identified in a large screen run by German researcher Janni Nusslein-Volhard - who’s known in genetics circles for her large-scale discovery of faulty fruit fly genes.
By searching through thousands of embryos created by mating male fish that had been exposed to DNA-damaging chemicals, the team found nearly 60 mutations giving them faulty ears. As well as Spock - an obvious name for the fish with pointed ears - many of the other gene faults affecting the shape of the fishes’ ears have appropriate names, including boxed ears, earache, dog-eared, big ears, earplugs and headphones. There’s even a Van Gogh mutation, after the painter who famously cut off his ear. Regular listeners might remember that there’s also a fruit fly gene called Van Gogh - but that’s a different gene, involved in bristle patterning.