Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mothers against decapentaplegic

Anda asked me tonight if a million but fifteenth (like trillion, quadrillion, etc) is a decapentillion. I said probably, and then googled it to find out if it would be decapentillion or decaquintillion.

When I started typing "Decapent..." into the google search bar, though, I noticed there was a suggested search term: "Decapentaplegic".

Of course, I had to click on that. I mean, who would need a word that means paralysis in fifteen limbs? Not many creatures actually have fifteen limbs!

Turns out fruit flies need that term. Not because they have fifteen limbs, but because they have fifteen developmental plates that eventually turn into fruit fly parts in the process of metamorphosis.

So, interesting enough as it is, but very quickly, when reading about the development of fruit flies, I found the goods. Turns out scientists have a sense of humor.

The fruit flies use decapentaplegic to tell their fifteen plates what to develop into--wings, organs, limbs, etc. And the decapentaplegic has a couple of receptors, named Thick veins and Punt. No, I'm not making this up. You can find it here: and here:

This is for real stuff here.

So there are receptors named Thickvein and Punt. And also Saxophone. Not making this up. A quote from the article: "In a sense, the Saxophone-defective fly develops upside down, and the dorsal region starts to resemble ventral tissue." 

And these receptors activate a protein called (not joking) Mothers Against Decapentaplegic (which is funny because the presence of a mutation of MAD in the mom represses decapentaplegic in the embryo....). Calling it Mad gives you some great phrases in the articles, too, like " inducing high levels of the phospho-Mad transducer".  Sounds (Another significant protein is named "String.")

Some of the genes affected by decapentaplegic are called optomotor blind, spalt, tinman, antennapedia, sex combs reduced, and brinker.  There is also a transcription factor called Engrailed that actives a gene called hedgehog. For real. 

And the inhibitor that stops decapentaplegic from doing it's job? Dad. Yup--Dad.

Apparently, scientists have a sense of humor.

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