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What's in the Autoclave? A Blog about Science

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Happyhour [May. 29th, 2009|10:26 am]
What's in the Autoclave? A Blog about Science
The current issue of Cell includes a research article from those whacky Drosophila1 geneticists that describes a gene which, when mutated, increases "resistance to the sedative effects of ethanol." They have dubbed this gene mutant happyhour. (Article: here with commentary here.)

There is a long history of fly geneticists giving genes colorful and memorable names. I don't work on fruit flies, but I can name a few of their genes off the top of my head: frizzled, moth-eaten, lunatic fringe, hedgehog and (of course) sonic hedgehog. Let no one ever accuse scientists of lacking a sense of humor.

Recently some have argued that these whimsical names ought to be changed. The argument is that physicians shouldn't have to tell patients that they may have a mutation in their "lunatic fringe homologue." (For more, here at the website of the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee website.) The patient might take offense.

Precision is important in science, so it may make more sense to rename lunatic fringe to O-fucosylpeptide 3-beta-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase -- the latter name tells you something about what the gene actually does -- but the former is certainly easier to pronounce and remember!

1Fruit flies, one of the most well-studied model organisms used in genetics and biology.