The question which has baffled scientists for over 100 years, concerning how a species of fruit fly split into two, has finally an answer, as a fruit fly gene sheds light on evolution in regards to their genome. This discovery was made by a team of scientists from the University of Utah, the University of Washington and last but not least, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
What’s extremely peculiar about the species of fruit flies in question is that mating only produces females. This makes the species completely paradoxical, because, without a male, the breeding process cannot be carried out at all. The probability of a specific mutation in the genome was first proposed in 1910, but finding the gene which caused this phenomenon to occur was deemed impossible due to the technology level present at the time. Extensive genome research, as well as gene identification and mutation, was sometimes considered the realm of fantasy during that time.
Today, though, gene study and analysis has become more accessible than 100 years ago, making the fruit fly study viable. The goal of said study was to find 7 rare males over a period of 6 months, in which fruit flies were mutated and forcefully bred. But after the 6 months have passed, the elusive 7 samurai, a name given by the conductors of the experiment in reference to a cult classic Japanese movie, were not found.
This baffled the scientists in question, urging them to further conduct their experiment over the following year. More than 55.000 females and mutated males were bred, producing 330.000 female offspring and six male ones. The male fruit flies presented mutations in the targeted gene, thus answering the question regarding the fruit flies’ evolutionary split.
The gene present in both the Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila simulans species of fruit flies is named gfzf. This gene acts as a cell-cycle checkpoint, making specific cells go to their places in the evolving organism in accordance with the present molecular schematic in order to produce a healthy fruit fly. The gfzf gene also causes infertility or death in hybrids, as well as splitting the genome into male and female counterparts.
The discovery of this gfzf gene can be applied to cancer research in a surprising manner. Cell-cycle checkpoint genes’ faults lead to an uncontrollable proliferation in cells eventually causing cancer. By understanding the specific processes which this gene undergoes, scientists will be able to understand and combat cancer in a more reliable way.
Further inquiries on the subject have to be made in order to understand the gfzf fruit fly gene better. This will be made possible if similar small insects possess the exact same type of cell-cycle checkpoint gene, because extensive breeding has to be made, making their numbers reach the hundreds of thousands in order for conclusive results to appear.
Because this recent discovery showing how a fruit fly gene sheds light on evolution has been made, steps towards better understanding the genetic evolution of insects, and other beings as well are slowly starting to pick up the pace. Sooner rather than later, scientists might actually be capable of completely discerning the exact way through which these mutations occur in a natural environment, without any outside influence. At least, the question concerning fruit flies has been answered, making scientists around the world give a sigh of relief.