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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 June, 2005, 22:53 GMT 23:53 UK
Scientists discover maturity gene
Image of a fruit fly
Fruit flies share many genes with humans
The discovery of a gene that controls maturity in fruit flies could help doctors understand how we turn from children to teenagers, say scientists.

A team at the University of Utah found a gene called DHR4 is critical for the timing of maturation in these insects.

Knocking out the gene, which controls the production of a hormone, made the fly larvae enter adulthood prematurely.

But experts cautioned that not all non-human research could be taken to apply directly to humans.

If we can study this further...we can gain some insights into how these processes work in all higher organisms, including people
Lead researcher Dr Carl Thummel

The scientists concluded that the DHR4 gene controls the timing of metamorphosis from a larva to an adult by coordinating how hormones respond when a fruit fly larva has gained enough weight and stored enough energy to begin its transformation.

Lead researcher Dr Carl Thummel said: "Our life cycle consists of embryonic development, growth, maturation, ageing and then death.

"We have a good handle on how embryonic development and ageing work at a molecular level. But the transition from growth to maturation is poorly understood.

"If we can study this further in insects using them as a model for humans, because they have so many components that are also are present in humans, we can gain some insights into how these processes - the timing of maturation and maturation itself - work in all higher organisms, including people."

He said the findings might help explain why cute children turn into surly teenagers.

"Steroid hormones take over your kids, and they look very different and behave very differently than they did previously. It happens more rapidly in insects, but they go through a transformation in very much the same way."

Dr Steve Russell, from the department of genetics at Cambridge University, agreed that fruit flies had been incredibly useful in uncovering processes such as how human embryos are able to define where particular bits need to grow.

"They have also been fantastic in uncovering conserved principals in neural development and even aspects of behaviour."

But he said the latest findings were certainly not going to open doors to a cure for acne or make teenagers less surly.

"The development of secondary sexual characteristics under the control of particular hormones is a mammalian-specific phenomena."

Fruit flies aid Alzheimer's study
21 Mar 05 |  Cambridgeshire
Scientists hail new 'map of life'
20 Nov 03 |  Science/Nature

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