Thursday, July 26, 2012

See? Scientists Have A Sense Of Humor...

I was reading this article the other day, just another on the very long list of articles that I force myself to read in order to get the most thorough understanding of my field as possible, and I couldn’t help but chortle at the sense of humor scientists occasionally reveal in their work. I shall quote, if I may:

Homozygous mutants are semilethal, and adult escaper flies are uncoordinated and show numerous neurological defects (Figure S1), hence the name fratboy.

OK I’ll translate that for those of you who have not studied biology since high school.

As you may remember, animals like flies, mice and humans are diploids, which means that we all have two sets of chromosomes, which also means two “copies” of our genes. I use quotation marks because that is not precisely accurate as they are not precise copies, but rather we often have two different alleles on the same corresponding portion of our chromosome pair, but that’s a story we don’t need to get into, except to explain the difference between a homozygous and heterozygous individual.

Having two copies of the same gene can mean that if one of the two genes is mutated, the individual can sometimes survive just fine with the one copy of the gene that has remained unchanged. If an animal has one of it’s genes mutated while the other “copy” is not, it is heterozygous for that mutation. If, on the other hand both copies of the gene are mutated it is homozygous for that mutation, and if that gene is important and there are no other genes that can step up and cover for it, the animal is screwed.

Scientists usually name genes based on the problems that the animal has when you remove the function of the gene by mutation. For example, the gene eyeless in Drosophila is called eyeless because when it is mutated the flies are born without eyes. In this case, the flies that have two copies of the mutated gene sometimes die before they can reach the adult stage. The ones that do survive, however, have neurological problems including bad coordination, which prompted the researchers to name the gene fratboy.

Not the best joke in the world after that tedious scientific explanation, but I was amused.

It is not uncommon for scientists to give genes weird or humorous names. Probably the most famous is sonic hedgehog, which was named after, well, Sonic Hedgehog. There are others too, like Van Gogh, because mutations in this gene cause Drosophila wings to form these swirling patterns that apparently but the researchers in mind of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. Mutations that led to clear larvae earned that gene the name glass bottomed boat. And the list goes on and on.
Yea, I don't see it either

So yes, scientists are not as stuffy as you think people! We can make each other smirk at each other’s papers when we come across yet another oddly named gene.

And then we find out that we’re the only ones that find each other funny, and go back to another funless day – unless we decide to make dry ice bombs, that can brighten up our moods.

Sources: Verstreken, P et. al. (2005). Synaptic Mitochondria Are Critical for Mobilization of Reserve Pool Vesicles at Drosophila Neuromuscular Junctions. Neuron 47(3): 365-378

Taylor, J et. al. (1998). Van Gogh: A New Drosophila Tissue Polarity Gene. Gentetics 150: 199-210

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