Through the decades, the mouse remained a curiosity of sorts. Its progeny were carefully bred year after year, but decades passed before anyone could determine which genes were responsible for its unusual features.
Finally, a few years ago, Barna and her colleagues, became interested in the mouse, and she worked with scientists at the National Institute of Genetics in Japan to identify the exact mutations that cause the malformations. A developmental biologist herself, Barna suspected that the mouse's peculiar skeletal structures suggested some sort of anomalous "patterning" in early development, where one part of the body forms incorrectly in the shape of a different part. What they found, said Barna, was a complete surprise.
A MASSIVE MOLECULAR MACHINE
The mutations turned out to be in the ribosome, a massive molecular machine that makes proteins and are common to all forms of life. They can be found in every cell in every tissue of the human body, and scientists believe that similar versions have been inside every cell of every creature that ever lived whether cat, carp, cholera or Caesar.
The ribosome is so common because it plays a central role in biology by making proteins that do everything from building the body's tissues to carrying out crucial biological functions, like breaking down food in the gut and encoding memories in the brain. Despite its importance, scientists had always assumed that the ribosome was something of an automaton a machine that simply took instructions from a creature's genetic code and spit out proteins. Mutations in the tail short mouse, however, showed otherwise.
|Contact: Jason Socrates Bardi|
University of California - San Francisco