New tool for comparative gene studies

November 17, 1999

A great deal is known about how model organisms such as fruit flies, nematodes and mice develop. But what about beetles, frogs, and birds? Scientists who study gene function in non-model organisms may get a boost from a new technique developed by Nipam Patel, Ph.D., assistant professor of organismal biology & anatomy and Howard Hughes Investigator at the University of Chicago.

Patel¹s technique allows scientists to introduce desired genes directly into embryonic cells using the baculovirus, which normally infects and reproduces in only a few species of moths. He has used the virus to carry foreign genes into frog and beetle, as well as fruit fly embryonic cells and believes the virus will prove effective in a wide range of other species.

The results of his findings are published in the November 18 issue of Current Biology.

"The baculovirus vector can easily infect a wide range of species," says Patel. "But outside of its normal moth host, the virus is unable to replicate, so there are minimal side effects."

Previously, the opportunity to study gene expression in non-model organisms was very limited. Techniques to create animals in which new genes are permanently inserted into their genomes have only been established for a few animals. Even then, the usefulness of these transgenic organisms is only realized after several generations. This presents a problem when studying animals with generation times measured in months or years.

Since the baculovirus can¹t reproduce outside of its normal moth host, infection is limited to cells near the injection site. This allows researchers to target experimental genes to specific areas.

As infected cells divide, the introduced genes eventually become diluted. But researchers who study developmental processes that occur early in embryogenesis need the genes to work for only a short time in order to test their theories.

Patel has already used this technique to study the gene 'wingless' (wg) in Tribolium, or the red flour beetle. In Drosophila, the role of wg in segmentation has been well documented. Wg codes for a signal molecule which is required for the maintenance of expression of another protein, called 'engrailed' (en). Together, wingless and engrailed direct segment polarity--which determines the pattern in both the skin and nervous system of each segment. Patel wanted to test whether the function of wingless was conserved in the flour beetle.

Using the baculovirus system, Patel and colleagues first showed that this system faithfully replicated the genetic data from Drosophila. Then using the virus to express wingless in Tribolium, they showed that in the flour beetle, wingless also regulates the expression of engrailed, as in Drosophila.

Future experiments are planned to compare and contrast limb development in beetles, fruit flies and other animals.

Already clinicians are interested in using the new technique to learn more about human gene function. Patel is currently collaborating with Louis Philipson, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor and acting chief of endocrinology at the University of Chicago Hospitals, who studies the effects of genes that regulate insulin secretion.

"Pancreatic islet cells are a lot like brain cells in that they have interesting electrical properties that are crucial to their proper functioning," says Philipson. "We want to study how certain genes modify insulin secretion. Until now, the methods to do this have been very harsh on the cell membrane, and disrupt electrical impulses. The baculovirus turns out to be the most gentle way to get genetic material into these cells and there is no worry about other effects of the virus on the cells," says Philipson.

University of Chicago Medical Center

Related Fruit Flies Articles from Brightsurf:

Sestrin makes fruit flies live longer
Researchers identify positive effector behind reduced food intake.

Circular RNA makes fruit flies live longer
The molecule influences the insulin signalling pathway and thus prolongs life

Fruit flies respond to rapid changes in the visual environment
Researchers have discovered a mechanism employed by the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster that broadens our understanding of visual perception.

How fruit flies flock together in orderly clusters
Opposing desires to congregate and maintain some personal space drive fruit flies to form orderly clusters, according to a study published today in eLife.

Fruit flies help in the development of personalized medicine
It is common knowledge that there is a connection between our genes and the risk of developing certain diseases.

Fruit flies' microbiomes shape their evolution
In just five generations, an altered microbiome can lead to genome-wide evolution in fruit flies, according to new research led researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

Why fruit flies eat practically anything
Kyoto University researchers uncover why some organisms can eat anything -- 'generalists -- and others have strict diets -- 'specialists'.

Why so fly: MU scientists discover some fruit flies learn better than others
Fruit flies could one day provide new avenues to discover additional genes that contribute to a person's ability to learn and remember.

Fruit flies find their way by setting navigational goals
Navigating fruit flies do not have the luxury of GPS, but they do have a kind of neural compass.

Tolerance to stress is a 'trade-off' as fruit flies age
With the help of the common fruit fly (D. melanogaster), which ages quickly because it only lives about 60 days, FAU neuroscientists provide insights into healthy aging by investigating the effects of a foraging gene on age and stress tolerance.

Read More: Fruit Flies News and Fruit Flies Current Events 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