Happy Halloween!

Kira Rienecker | 31 OCT 2016

I know you were wondering this today, and yes, there is a subset of genes named “Halloween genes”. In line with a long standing tradition of naming biological units after silly things, the halloween gene family includes spook, spookier, phantom (phm), disembodied (dib), shadow (sad), and shade. These genes were first identified in Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies, a wonderful genetic model) by Wieschaus and Nüsslein-Volhard.

But what do these nightmares do? These genes encode enzymes necessary for the biosynthesis of 20E, a steroid hormone which serves more animals and biomass on the planet than any other steroid hormone. Mutation of a single gene of the halloween gene family is embryonic lethal. These genes are critical for development.

As it turns out, the 20E synthesis and signalling pathways are also critical for Drosophila adult social and conditioned behaviour. DopEcR, a receptor for 20E, is involved in activity- and experience-dependent plasticity in the adult fly’s central nervous system. Drosophila rely on the mushroom body–a brain region central to Drosophila learning and memory–for DopEcR-dependent processing of courtship memory.

So–be careful about flirting at those halloween parties… If your moves are too shade-y, you may end up only a fly on the wall.


Header image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/01/Comus_1873_Fly.jpg

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