Whichever scientist named the Van Gogh gene must have had an artistic streak – fruit flies with a faulty version of the gene have unusual swirly patterns of hair and bristles, calling to mind their namesake’s distinctive brushwork. It’s involved in tissue polarity, playing an important role in helping cells know which way is up and working together with two other unusually-named genes known as frizzled and prickle. Two versions of Van Gogh are found in humans and other animals, and mutations in the gene have been implicated in the birth defect spina bifida, as well as some types of cancer. It also turns out to have a number of other important jobs controlling the development of a foetus in the womb. And researchers recently discovered that the looptail mutant mouse, which grow blobby, curled tails, is due to a mistake in a Van Gogh-like gene too.
Written by Kat Arney
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