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Male or female? In flies, some cells can't tell
Date:5/4/2010

pression in the cells of developing flies. The technique attaches a reporter gene to doublesex that makes cells expressing the gene glow green. Tracking doublesex then becomes as easy as watching for green spots in fly embryos, larvae, and adults. With this approach, Baker's group found that during fly development, doublesex switches on and off at different times and in different tissues. As expected, they saw doublesex protein in the genitalia and in other body parts that display differences between males and females. But in body parts where there are not overt differences between males and females, they found that doublesex was expressed only in certain cells and not expressed in many other types of cells. "It's a simple observational study with profound implications," Baker says. This study demonstrates that only a subset of cells is likely to know whether they are male or female. Robinett and her colleagues found that male and female fruit flies are really a mixture of cells that are sex-specific and cells that are sexless. Many of the fly's cells never turn on the doublesex gene. So while, some cells "know" their sex and take on sex-appropriate characteristics during development, those that do not express doublesex remain identical in males and females.

Because doublesex or analogous genes are present in myriad organisms, including humans, this theme may apply to more than fruit flies. "It may be broadly true that males and females are made up of a mosaic of cells that know their sex and cells that don't," Baker says. This could prompt other researchers to check for similar doublesex patterns in other model organisms such as roundworms, zebrafish, and mice. If similar findings emerge, it could shake up the entire notion of sex differences in the animal kingdom. And if the finding applies to humans a big "if" at this point the implications could be even more significant. "If it applies to people, it's certainly going to change our sociological view of
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Contact: Jennifer Michalowski
michalow@hhmi.org
Public Library of Science
Source:Eurekalert

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