Forsyth scientists identify a gene responsible for facial diversity

October 27, 2005

Boston-- Researchers at the Forsyth Institute have discovered that the genes that influence the jaws of cichlid fish, tropical freshwater fish renowned for head shape diversity, offer insight into overall vertebrate diversity. The scientific studies led by R. Craig Albertson, PhD., Staff Associate, show that the growth factor gene, bmp4, is both associated with and has the potential to alter jaw morphology in a way that approximates natural variation among fish species.

According to Dr. Albertson, "An understanding of the genetic factors that regulate bone shape is also vital to a better diagnostic comprehension of human craniofacial defects, and could lead to the development of biological therapies for facial traumas."

African cichlid fishes have evolved highly specialized modes of feeding through extensive adaptations of their jaws. This study, published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, (PNAS), explores the molecular basis of alternate jaw types in this species-rich group.

The opening and closing lever mechanisms of the lower jaw have traditionally been used to describe feeding techniques in bony fishes. Quantitative genetic analyses in cichlids demonstrate that opening and closing jaw mechanisms are regulated by distinct genetic factors, and are free to evolve independently. Allelic variations in bmp4 segregates with the mechanical advantage of closing. Further, species-specific differences in cichlid jaw shape are correlated with different patterns of bmp4 expression in the embryonic jaw. Finally, when bmp4 is over-expressed in a developmental model organism, the zebrafish, jaw shape changes in a way that parallels natural variation among cichlid species.

"This work provides new insights into the mechanisms that underlie biodiversity," Albertson said. "Moreover, our results show interesting parallels with recent work in another evolutionary model, Galapagos finches." In both studies bmp4 is implicated as underlying adaptive variation in jaw shape. Higher levels of bmp4 result in thicker jaws, whereas lower levels are associated with thinner jaws. The fact that bmp4 may underlie morphological diversity in both birds and fishes, raises the interesting possibility that it might play a broader role in vertebrate evolution."

"Superficial similarities between these two systems may be similar on a molecular level," Albertson adds. "This research is exciting on several levels. We now have the opportunity to explore what genes make a head, and which genes create variations in head shape. Furthermore, this work will help us gain a better understanding of, and offer possibilities for preserving biodiversity of species."

R. Craig Albertson is a Staff Associate and a member of the laboratory of Pamela C. Yelick, Ph.D. in The Forsyth Institute Department of Cytokine Biology. His work is supported through a National Institute of Health training grant awarded to the Forsyth Institute.
-end-
The Forsyth Institute is the world's leading independent organization dedicated to scientific research and education in oral, craniofacial and related biomedical sciences.

The Forsyth Institute is a nonprofit research institute focused on oral, craniofacial and related biomedical science.

Forsyth Institute

Related Genes Articles from Brightsurf:

Are male genes from Mars, female genes from Venus?
In a new paper in the PERSPECTIVES section of the journal Science, Melissa Wilson reviews current research into patterns of sex differences in gene expression across the genome, and highlights sampling biases in the human populations included in such studies.

New alcohol genes uncovered
Do you have what is known as problematic alcohol use?

How status sticks to genes
Life at the bottom of the social ladder may have long-term health effects that even upward mobility can't undo, according to new research in monkeys.

Symphony of genes
One of the most exciting discoveries in genome research was that the last common ancestor of all multicellular animals already possessed an extremely complex genome.

New genes out of nothing
One key question in evolutionary biology is how novel genes arise and develop.

Good genes
A team of scientists from NAU, Arizona State University, the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts and nine other institutions worldwide to study potential cancer suppression mechanisms in cetaceans, the mammalian group that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises.

How lifestyle affects our genes
In the past decade, knowledge of how lifestyle affects our genes, a research field called epigenetics, has grown exponentially.

Genes that regulate how much we dream
Sleep is known to allow animals to re-energize themselves and consolidate memories.

The genes are not to blame
Individualized dietary recommendations based on genetic information are currently a popular trend.

Timing is everything, to our genes
Salk scientists discover critical gene activity follows a biological clock, affecting diseases of the brain and body.

Read More: Genes News and Genes Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.