Gene of the Month - Techno trousers
Unlike most of our colourfully-named genes, techno trousers was first found in zebrafish, rather than fruit flies.
First identified in the rave heydays of the mid 90s through a large genetic screen by German scientists, techno trousers is one of four so-called ‘crazy fish’ genes, which when mutated cause distinctive changes in the movement of the animals. The other three are the slightly more sensible sounding roller coaster, wavy and hertz.
At just two days old, fish embryos with faulty techno trousers move in a wild and dramatic way, over-reacting to being gently prodded by making exaggerated bending movements with their tail, even flapping it against their head. And though you might be laughed out of Berlin’s trendy Berghain club for dancing like that, it does look a little bit like the fish are raving one out. Sadly, after four days they are all clubbed out, and become completely paralysed.
Fast-forward to 2012 and US researchers finally track down the gene itself, and discover that it encodes a protein called Eaat2b. This sits in the membrane around glial cells in the brain and shuttles small chemicals called glutamate in and out. Faults in the gene make the transporter overactive, making the brain cells overexcitable and explaining the fishes’ overexaggerated movements.
Importantly, faults in Eaat2b and glutamate shuttling in human brain cells are linked to conditions including epilepsy and neurodegeneration, so there’s a lot that scientists could learn about how to treat these diseases better by studying these funky little fish. Altogether now - big fish, little fish, cardboard box...