Breaking News

US Department of Labor awards $50.6M in Pathway Home Grants to provide pre-release job training, services to incarcerated people More Than 280 Pounds of Narcotics Seized by Customs and Border Protection Officers Starbucks Corporation – Starbucks Declares Quarterly Cash Dividend The Metaverse Goes Industrial: Siemens, NVIDIA Extend Partnership to Bring Digital Twins Within Easy Reach Governor Cooper Signs Six Bills into Law ICYMI: Three Companies Warn About Delayed Chip Funding As GlobalWafers Announcement Hinges On Bipartisan Innovation Act Passage Attorney General James Calls on Google to Address Dangerous Amplification of Fake Pregnancy Centers Governor Abbott Appoints High, Figueroa To Texas Commission Of Licensing And Regulation | Office of the Texas Governor

Electric organs help fish such as the electric eel do all sorts of amazing things. They send and receive signals that are akin to bird songs, helping them recognize other electric fish by species and sex.

Now a U.S. National Science Foundation-funded study published in Science Advances explains how small genetic changes enabled electric fish to evolve their electric organs. The finding might also help scientists pinpoint the genetic mutations behind some human diseases.

Evolution took advantage of a quirk of fish genetics to develop electric organs. All fish have duplicate versions of the sodium channel gene that produces tiny muscle switches. To evolve electric organs, electric fish turned off one duplicate of the gene in muscles and turned it on in other cells. The tiny switches that typically make muscles contract were repurposed to generate electric signals, producing a new organ with astonishing capabilities.

“We can see how a small change in a gene can completely change where it’s expressed,” said Harold Zakon, a neuroscientist and integrative biologist at The University of Texas at Austin and corresponding author of the study.

Researchers from UT Austin and Michigan State University describe discovering a short section of this sodium channel gene — about 20 letters long — that controls whether the gene is expressed in a cell. They confirmed that in electric fish, the control region is altered or entirely missing. That’s why one of the two sodium channel genes is turned off in the muscles of these fish. But the implications go far beyond the evolution of electric fish.

“This control region is in most vertebrates, including humans,” Zakon said. “The next step in terms of human health would be to examine this region in databases of human genes to see how much variation there is in normal people, and whether some deletions or mutations in this region could lead to a lowered expression of sodium channels, which might result in disease.”

Source link