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1 worm, 2 mouths
Date:11/7/2013

spective of the environmental conditions, and in which the same gene, eud-1, is inactivated. "We were able to show that a gene that we found in a genetic experiment under laboratory conditions controls an ecologically significant characteristic," comments Max Planck Director Sommer, explaining the special significance of this discovery.

eud-1 is the gene for a sulfatase. Sulfatases are enzymes that chemically alter other proteins or molecules. The scientists in Tbingen do not yet know precisely which molecules are the targets of this special sulfatase. They presume, however, that eud-1 influences the characteristics of hormonal messenger substances. This would fit with their observation that eud-1 is mainly active in the worm's neurons where important messenger substances are produced.

Armed with the information about the eud-1 mutants, Ragsdale and his colleagues crosschecked their findings and introduced additional copies of the eud-1 gene into Pristionchus worms using genetic engineering tricks. Almost all of these transgenic worms developed the wide mouth form with the characteristic tooth.

eud-1 thus works like a train dispatcher at a large railway station who decides which platform a high-speed train can pull into based on the current traffic situation. During a critical phase in the worm's development, it follows the one-way track to a "wide mouth" or "narrow mouth".

The capacity of many organisms to tailor their development to the changing demands of the environment is known as "phenotypic plasticity". The discovery of the des eud-1 gene is important because the molecular-genetic mechanisms that facilitate this plasticity in the animals have been largely unknown up to now.

"Phenotypic plasticity is often referred to as an explanation for evolutionary adaptations to different environmental conditions. We provide an example of a genetic mechanism that enables such evolutionary bifurcations," says Sommer.'/>"/>

Contact: Erik Ragsdale
erik.ragsdale@tuebingen.mpg.de
49-070-716-01496
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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