Gravity-defying gene discovered by Bath researchers

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Have you ever wondered how it is that your body is able to resist the force of gravity, and how it maintains its specific 3D shape? Scientists at the University of Bath have uncovered part of the mystery to this phenomenon, as described in the Journal, Nature.

Mutagenesis studies were carried out on the Japanese Medaka rice fish; this involves the introduction of controlled mutations in the genetic sequence to alter the protein products function. This

This means that as a nation we are contributing quite considerably to the advancement of humanity. This is what is at stake when considering these budget cuts. The government are risking a slowdown in the development of new technologies, medicines and discoveries. As it can be seen from the past a reduction in the quality of science leads to a weaker economy (which is of course this Conservative government’s obsession).

Let me be so bold to give an example of the possible effects of this kind of budget cut. I’m talkenabled the identification of a gene and its protein product that play a crucial role in the maintenance of tissue, and consequently, 3D body structure during development.

makoto fish gravity resisting gene

Dr Makoto Furutani-Seiki hard at work in the Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Bath

This is the YAP protein, which has been shown to regulate tissue tension through the action of actomyosin, a protein filament required for maintaining the correct tissue alignment. In mutant Medaka cells (with a non functioning YAP protein), tissue flattening was observed through the failure of cells to stack together, and instead slipping, leading to reduced 3D structure and a more 2D-like form. The direction of flattening was observed to reflect that of gravity which correlates with a role for YAP in providing tissue tension between cells through the action of actomyosin. This allows tissues to withstand the forces of gravity and thus the formation of an organs’ unique 3D structure.

An example studied is the development of the 3D structure of the eye that occurs through the correct attachment and alignment of the lens to the retina, mediated by projections called filopodia. These filopodia are produced through the action of actomyosin contraction and thus are regulated by YAP. Medaka fish mutants consequently showed a loss of this lens-retina attachment during development due to loss of YAP function, leading to a distorted eye structure and thus a role for YAP in tissue structure development.

So why is this important to us? The YAP protein is not exclusive to Medaka fish, but has also been found to act in humans to regulate 3D body structure and subsequently prevent us all from developing flattened 2D structures from the force of gravity.

The role of YAP in maintaining cell alignment and tissue tension has important implications in stem cell development. Understanding YAP function could aid in the development of complex organs consisting of multiple tissues that maintain their specific 3D structure, thus paving the way for the development of transplantable organs.

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