Lai has named the new gene "mats," an abbreviation for "Mob As Tumor Suppressor." As part of the research, Lai's lab added a human mats gene to tumor-plagued flies known to have a genetic defect in their mats gene, then found that tumors no longer developed within this line of flies in individuals that had incorporated the human gene into their DNA. "When we introduced the human mats gene into the mutant fly's body, we found it was able to perform the same function as a normal fly's mats gene," Lai says.
The mats gene is thought to be present in all plants and animals, and Lai's lab identified defective mats genes in a human skin-cancer tumor and in a mouse breast-cancer tumor. "In these tumors, we found that the mouse counterpart and the human counterpart of the mats gene were mutated. On the basis of our research, we speculate that all mats genes in animals and plants may regulate cell number and tissue growth by restricting the proliferation of cells and promoting their timely death," Lai says.
This is the first time that any gene in the large superfamily to which the mats gene belongs has been shown to play a critical role in growth inhibition.
The scientists began their research when they found one line of the Drosophila fly, a model laboratory speci