Satellite Banner
Genomics
Scientific Community
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

Understanding how our Genes Help us Develop

Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Last Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Humans and fruit flies have similar Hox genes, which are master regulators of embryonic development.

Hox genes are the master regulators of embryonic development for all animals, including humans, flies and worms. They decide what body parts go where. Not surprisingly, if something goes wrong with these genes, the results can be disastrous.

In Drosophila, the fruit fly, a Hox mutation can produce profound changes--an extra pair of wings, for example, or a set of legs, instead of antennae, growing from the fly's head.

"The job of the Hox genes is to tell cells early on in embryonic development what to become--whether to make an eye, an antenna or wings," says Robert Drewell, associate professor of biology at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. "Just a single mutation in the Hox gene can produce these dramatic anomalies."

Humans have Hox genes too. For this reason, Drewell is trying to understand the molecular function of Hox genes in the fruit fly, including what happens when they work properly and what happens when they don't, in order to learn more about their behavior in humans.

Genetically, humans and fruit flies are very much alike; in fact, many known human disease genes have a recognizable match in the genetic code of the fruit fly. Thus, the information researchers gain from studying flies could provide insights into certain birth defects, such as extra ribs and extra digits, and potentially serious diseases.

"We have exactly the same genes, and use them in exactly the same way," he says. "By understanding them in Drosophila, we can understand them in humans."

Drewell is conducting his research under a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, which he received in 2009. The award supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education, and research within the context of the mission of their organization. He is receiving about $600,000 over five years.

Hox genes have been entirely conserved throughout animal evolution, meaning "since around 530 million years ago, when many complex animal life forms appeared, they had Hox genes," Drewell says.

Fruit flies are model organisms for studying genetics since they have a short lifespan--several generations can be studied in a matter of weeks--and are small and easy to grow. More importantly, they can provide a wealth of information for computational analysis because scientists have deciphered their entire genetic blueprint.

"We live in this post-genomic era, so we can do comparisons across species to look at exactly how the regulatory regions at Hox genes are changing over time," Drewell says.

Drewell's lab uses several different approaches, applying biology, genetics and computational methods to learn more about the behavior of Hox genes.

"We make what are called 'reporter' genes," he says. "We construct these artificial genes in the lab, then reintroduce them back into Drosophila. This allows us to measure what is happening to those genes. The genes we are putting in are combinations of fragments from Hox genes--different DNA regions--and we are testing if these different regions are responsible for regulating when and where the Hox gene is turned on and off."

Through their experiments, "We can look at what genes are turned on and off, and can detect exactly which DNA elements regulate the process, and how they regulate it."

Because the fruit fly's genome is available, "we are able to do comparisons across species to look at exactly how these regulatory regions are changing over time," using computational biology methods, he says. Moreover, "through that process, we can essentially start to get a handle on the role that Hox genes play in controlling cell identify in the developing embryo. We can do this in all animals, including humans."

The educational component of his CAREER grant has allowed Drewell to incorporate new elements to the curriculum, including mathematical and computational approaches, and provides undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct research that typically would not be available to them.

"Harvey Mudd doesn't have a graduate program, so all the research, essentially, is done by undergraduates," Drewell says. "They get an opportunity to do something they might not otherwise get to do. Each student is fully encouraged to take ownership of his or her own project. In this way, this often exposes them to a research field for the very first time and establishes a great foundation for their future endeavors in research."


Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,500+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 3,700+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Blueprint for the Affordable Genome
Stampede supercomputer powers innovations in DNA sequencing technologies.
Friday, June 27, 2014
Identifying the Pathway that Leads to Cells Forming into an Individual Body
By studying how genes influence cells to migrate and mutate, scientist hopes findings will lead to improved cancer treatments.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Genomic and Computational Tools Provide Window to Distant Past
Researcher studies gene differences in humans and other species to better understand timeline of genetic changes.
Friday, August 09, 2013
Bacterial DNA May Integrate Into Human Genome More Readily in Tumor Tissue
Gene transfer may play role in cancer, other diseases linked with DNA damage.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
NSF Awards $14M to Advance Plant Genomic Research
Resources to be developed include genomic sequences, genetic markers, maps and expressed sequence collections.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
NSF Awards $145,924 Grant to Williams College
The project will establish a laboratory at Williams for the collection of DNA sequence and genotype data.
Monday, November 21, 2005
Scientific News
Liquid Biopsies: Utilization of Circulating Biomarkers for Minimally Invasive Diagnostics Development
Market Trends in Biofluid-based Liquid Biopsies: Deploying Circulating Biomarkers in the Clinic. Enal Razvi, Ph.D., Managing Director, Select Biosciences, Inc.
Watching a Tumour Grow in Real-Time
Researchers from the University of Freiburg have gained new insight into the phases of breast cancer growth.
Childhood Cancer Cells Drain Immune System’s Batteries
Cancer cells in neuroblastoma contain a molecule that breaks down a key energy source for the body’s immune cells, leaving them too physically drained to fight the disease.
Urine Proteins Point to Early-Stage Pancreatic Cancer
A combination of three proteins found at high levels in urine can accurately detect early-stage pancreatic cancer, researchers at the BCI have shown.
Researcher Discovers Trigger of Deadly Melanoma
New research sheds light on the precise trigger that causes melanoma cancer cells to transform from non-invasive cells to invasive killer agents, pinpointing the precise place in the process where "traveling" cancer turns lethal.
Genetic Tug of War
Researchers have reported on a version of genetic parental control in mice that is more targeted, and subtle than canonical imprinting.
Error Correction Mechanism in Cell Division
Cell biologists have reported an advance in understanding the workings of an error correction mechanism that helps cells detect and correct mistakes in cell division early enough to prevent chromosome mis-segregation and aneuploidy, that is, having too many or too few chromosomes.
How to Become a Follicular T Helper Cell
Uncovering the signals that govern the fate of T helper cells is a big step toward improved vaccine design.
Researchers Resurrect Ancient Viruses
Researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Schepens Eye Research Institute have reconstructed an ancient virus that is highly effective at delivering gene therapies to the liver, muscle, and retina.
Cell Aging Slowed by Putting Brakes on Noisy Transcription
Experiments in yeast hint at ways to extend life of some human cells.
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,500+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,700+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FREE!