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Fish Help Identify Genes Required For Development

  May, 16 2002 0:50
your information resource in human molecular genetics
A report in Nature Genetics reveals the identities of 75 genes that, when mutated, cause developmental abnormalities. The study was performed in zebrafish, a favored model organism for studying animal development. This demonstrates that genes involved in embryonic development can be identified at a much faster rate than was previously possible. Only about 50 such genes in zebrafish had previously been cloned.

Following up on a pilot study published three years ago, Nancy Hopkins and colleagues took a new approach by infecting thousands of early zebrafish embryos with a virus that randomly disrupts genes. They were able to clone the genes very quickly -- often in as little as two weeks -- because the virus acts as a molecular tag in the genome. Previous studies of this sort used a chemical called ENU to generate mutations that affect the growing zebrafish embryo. Although successful in generating mutant fish for further study, it has been difficult to identify the genes that have been mutated by this approach because the mutations are not marked like those in the current study.

Each of the 75 genes has at least some similarity with a known human gene, and a few are already known to be involved in human disease. The DNA sequences can be used to assign probable biochemical functions to some of the genes, which encode a diverse array of proteins. The biochemical functions of others cannot be predicted; nonetheless, this approach does allow for biological roles to be assigned to these genes. Upon completion of the screen, 450–500 such genes will have been identified. The findings represent a major step in the long-term effort to identify the complete ‘genetic construction kit’ for animal development.

Author contacts:

Dr. Nancy Hopkins
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
Tel: +1 617 253 6414
E-mail: nhopkins@mit.edu

Dr. Adam Amsterdam
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
Tel: +1 617 253 6414
E-mail: aha@mit.edu

Online publication

(C) Nature Genetics press release.

Message posted by: Trevor M. D'Souza

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