My favorite gene names

Yeah, so I’m a geneticist, or at least I hope to be one someday, and in studying genetics and developmental biology my senior year I came across some cool names scientists have given genes. Some of them just sound cool to pronounce, some are cool because they go with another gene, and some are just neat. The vast majority of them are in Drosophila. This is because, well, the conventions for naming the genes are just somehow more loose and, really, discoverer-specific, so they name them whatever they want. Maybe this started with Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus giving their genes interesting German names based on their phenotypes when they are mutant (which is how most genes are named upon discovery, minus the German part). Well, more likely it started with Thomas Hunt Morgan, who named the gene that confers eye color white because when mutated they are white. All I know is C. elegans has almost zero interesting gene names because their International Council on Boring Gene Names labels each new gene very systematically, so that is one reason Drosophila is so much more fun to study. Anyway, maybe it seems pointless, but these are some cool names, and this will show you what you’re missing out on, not studying biology.

And this table doesn't look right in Firefox—the rows don't line up right. I'll look into it...eventually.



Organism, gene name

Mutant phenotype/translation/function

Drosophila melanogaster:
First, the names with interesting origins, translations, or relationships:

knirps

teashirt
Grunge

tinman

lilliputian

dreadlocks

inebriated

lush

cheap date

methuselah

tribbles

Van Gogh

maggie


brainiac

grim
reaper

abnormal spindle
(asp)
cleopatra

amontillado


fruity

swiss cheese

lava lamp


gypsy

decapentaplegic
mothers against decapentaplegic
daughters against decapentaplegic


hamlet


And now the ones that just sound cool/interesting/funny, or whose origins I don't know and don't matter anyway:

Krüppel
Ultrabithorax
runt
hunchback
hedgehog
disheveled
hairy
zerknüllt

nudel
spätzle
single-minded
nautilus
nemo
castor
pollux
sevenless
Bride of sevenless
(bos)
gooseberry
patched
smoothened
frizzled
frazzled
cubitus interruptus
folded gastrulation
(fog)
short gastrulation (sog)
torpedo
buttonhead
bagpipe
bazooka
cactus


Xenopus sp. (frog):

noggin
frizbee


Zebrafish:

floating head
one-eyed pinhead
cyclops
backstroke
einstein
half stoned
rolling stones
tiggywinkle hedgehog
contact
radar
dynamo


C. elegans (nematode):

dumpy
uncoordinated
Mom
(more mesoderm)
Pop (posterior pharynx defect)


Others/various:

sonic hedgehog
callipyge

lunatic fringe
radical fringe
manic fringe
indian hedgehog
desert hedgehog
Jordan element

wee-1





Squirt, whippersnapper

(why is it not T-shirt?)
Regulator of the teashirt gene

Embryos have no heart

Small

Denticle pattern resembles dreadlocks

Uncoordinated

Protein mediates responses to alcohols

They're especially sensitive to alcohol

Live longer

Some cells divide uncontrollably

Have swirling wing-hair patterns

Development is arrested, as seems to have happened to Maggie Simpson

Well, smarter or larger brain, I guess


Together they mediate apoptosis

Mutant Cleo protein's interaction with Asp protein is lethal, and Cleopatra committed suicide by asp bite

Unable to hatch, as in Fortunato from "The Cask of Amontillado", who was walled-in alive

Males aren't interested in females

Brain has many holes (just like Sam Beckett!)

Movements of Golgi bodies labeled with anti-Lava antibody resemble the motions of droplets in a lava lamp

The gene is a mobile genetic element


They normally repress dpp activity. Mutation prevents normal embryo development. "American mothers are famous for founding organizations opposing, well, many things." —Mikael Niku and Mikko Taipale

From his "To be or not to be" soliloquy because it affects development of cells descended from the IIB cells





Cripple






German for 'crumpled up'—I just like the way that one sounds if you yell it, like Achtung! or something
Noodle
Type of pasta





No R7 cell in 8-cell eye
Rreceptor for sev ligand

















Specifies dorsal fate, so mutants have two heads





























Greek for "beautiful buttocks," identified in sheep, affects muscle growth on their bottoms





Named after Michael Jordan for its extraordinary capacity to jump around the genome of the protist Volvox
In S. pombe, involved in cell cycle—mutants divide too soon so they are small, and it was discovered and named by a Scottish scientist

I saved my three favorites for last.
My favorite, funniest-sounding translation is windbeutel, which means “cream puff.”

My favorite-sounding gene name is fushi tarazu, which is Japanese for “few segments.”

My absolute, number-one favorite of all time, both because of its quirkiness and its origin, is INDY, which makes mutant fruit flies live twice as long, and it’s an acronym for “I'm not dead yet.” Okay, that’s funny enough; I knew this one for a month or two before I read Mikael Niku and Mikko Taipale’s wonderful web page and discovered where the name came from. This is why it is my all-time favorite: the phrase comes from that scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” where that guy is pushing a wheelbarrow full of corpses, shouting, “Bring out your dead!” but that one guy isn’t dead yet, and he says, “I’m not dead yet!” That is so awesome! It’s brilliant!

Thanks to Mark Isaak and Mikael Niku and Mikko Taipale for some of the explanations of gene names. Click on those links to find many more interesting gene names; I would have included all of them, but I didn’t want to just copy them.

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