Call it a mystery with a stubby tail: an odd-looking mouse discovered through a U.S. government breeding program in the 1940s that had a short, kinky tail and an extra set of ribs in its neck and nobody knew why.
A team of scientists led by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco has now spilled the genetic secrets of this mutant rodent. In doing so, they may have uncovered a new wrinkle in the genetic code an entirely unrecognized way our bodies regulate how genes are expressed in different tissues throughout life.
This discovery has broad implications for how we think about developmental biology, and it may explain the origins of numerous developmental diseases. It also may help suggest new ways of treating certain types of cancer, many of which may be linked, at least in part, to problems in how the body regulates gene expression.
"The ultimate outcome of gene expression is the production of proteins," said UCSF Faculty Fellow Maria Barna, PhD, who led the research. "Our study suggests that there is a new way of controlling which types of proteins will be produced in which types of cells."
As described in this week's issue of the journal Cell, the research identified a molecular machine called the ribosome as the factor that exerts this new control over gene expression. Though well known to scientists as a key component of living cells, the ribosome was never thought to play a regulatory role.
HOW THE MUTANT MOUSE CAME TO BE
The "tail short" mutant mouse first appeared in 1946 at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD, where several were discovered among a litter of offspring born to a highly inbred strain of mice raised in a breeding program. They all had very unusual skeletal features: short, stubby tails and an extra set of ribs in their neck vertebrae.
Doctors recognized the uniqueness and potential importance of the mouse immediately. It wasn't just
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University of California - San Francisco