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Chasing Tailless

Insights into the precise timing of gene expression during embryo development

06 May 2023

Chasing Tailless

During development, patterns emerge in our cells, shaping tissues, organs, fingers and toes to a design decorated by switching genes 'on' or 'off', or gene expression. With simpler genetics, but similar decisions to make, these fruit flies (Drosophila) make a useful model to study proteins that control gene expression – known as transcription factors. Here scientists use genetic engineering and fluorescent stains to study developmental steps in the fly’s ‘tail’ – finding a transcription factor called tailless (highlighted in blue) rises and falls between early (top row) and later (bottom) stages. Tailless controls the precise timing of patterns of several other transcription factors (green, purple, orange), allowing researchers to predict and test a sort of wiring diagram for the network of genes behind the scenes. As tailless is involved elsewhere in the fly and in human cells, the relationship between timing and gene expression may yield clues to human development.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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