Gene-ious!

by Lorien E. Menhennett

Geneticists, and scientists in general, may not exactly have a reputation as having a sense of humor. But, I argue, many of them truly do. I have evidence to prove it, which I will present in this post. I stumbled across this evidence when searching for an appropriate name for my iPad. I simply Googled “funny gene names,” and came up with a list of sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant, sometimes culturally referenced, names for genes of various organisms (especially my dear Drosophila melanogaster). Here are some of my favorites, taken from a couple of Web sites that I found: jpetrie.myweb.uga.edu/genes.html, http://www.curioustaxonomy.net/gene/fly.html, and tinman.nikunnakki.info/browser. I hope they bring a smile to your face, as they did to mine.

These are all from Drosophila melanogaster:

 Gene name History behind name
 18wheeler This gene is expressed in 18 stripes in developing larvae.
 agnostic Agnostic flies fail to learn odors in certain temperatures. Agnostic people also have problems making up their minds.
 amontillado Mutant larvae do not hatch. In Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado,” a man who is still alive is walled in.
 brokenheart A mutation in this gene causes a defect in heart development.
 cheap date These mutants are very sensitive to alcohol.
 cleopatra In these mutants, an interaction with the asp gene is lethal. Queen Cleopatra supposedly committed suicide with a poisonous asp.
 clown Mutants’ eyes are red and white.
 coitus interruptus Mutant males literally engage in withdrawal during copulation (it lasts about 60% of the normal 20 minutes).
dachshund Flies have crippled legs, resembling this dog species.
dreadlocks The connections between nerve cells of these flies are not correct, and the result resembles the hairstyle of the same name.
drop dead These mutants’ brains deteriorate rapidly; they begin to walk in an uncoordinated way and then die.
dunce These flies have impaired learning.
glass-bottom boat These flies’ larvae are transparent.
grim, reaper These two genes together mediate programmed cell death (apoptosis) in the fruit fly.
groucho Mutants have a greater-than-normal number of bristles (like Groucho Marx).
icebox Female icebox mutants do not care about courting males.
ken and barbie Both male and female mutants lack external genitalia (like Ken and Barbie).
limo This gene is involved in protein transport.
lot A Biblical reference: mutants like salt more than usual.
lush Mutation causes increased desire for alcohol.
out cold Mutants lose coordination when the temperature falls, and eventually become paralyzed.
sarah Mutants are practically sterile (another Biblical reference, to Sarah, Abraham’s wife).
stuck Mutant flies get stuck in females.
swiss cheese Mutants have holes in their brains that resemble swiss cheese.
van gogh Swirling wing hair patterns resemble van Gogh’s paintings.
yuri Mutants have difficulty with gravity. The gene was found on the 40th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic space flight.

Thanks to the tinman Web sites I referenced above for these gene names and explanations; visit the site for more. Fun stuff!

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