Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Environmental Sensitivity of Body Parts

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Environmental Sensitivity of Body Parts

Article excerpt

Research by a team of Michigan State University scientists has shed new light on why some body parts are more sensitive to environmental change than others, work that could someday lead to better ways of treating a variety of diseases, including type 2 diabetes.

The research, led by assistant zoology professor Alexander Shingleton, is detailed in the Proceedings of the Library of Science Genetics.

Shingleton is studying the genetics of fruit flies, particularly why some of the flies' body parts will grow to full size even if malnourished, though others will not. Fruit flies use the same genes to control this process as humans. A human brain will grow to near full size despite malnutrition or other environmental, or nongenetic, problems, he says.

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"The developmental mechanisms by which these changes in body proportion are regulated are really unknown," Shingleton says.

If scientists can figure out why some organs or body parts are either overly sensitive or insensitive to environmental factors, then it's possible that therapies could be developed to deal with any number of maladies.

"If we know how we can control sensitivity to environmental issues such as malnutrition, we can, in principle, manipulate genes that are regulating that sensitivity," Shingleton says. "Genes can be activated so they can actually restore sensitivity. …

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