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Scientists Discover Mechanism That Gives Shape to Life

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the the-foot-bone-is-connected-to-the-leg-bone dept.

Science 138

First time accepted submitter mcswell writes "Daniël Noordermeer and Denis Duboule, two researchers at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the University of Geneva claim to have discovered how vertebrae get built in sequence in embryos (and by extension, how ribs, arms and so forth wind up in the right place). The story is that the DNA strands contain a linear series of HOX genes, and that the strands slowly unwind over a period of two days, successively exposing each HOX gene, thereby allowing it to be transcribed to form the segments of the vertebra. Snakes, it seems, have a defect that causes the system not to shut down; eventually it 'runs out of steam.' The same process is said to apply in many invertebrates, including worms (presumably segmented worms) and insects."

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138 comments

But what sequence gives shape to first posts? (0, Offtopic)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#37729972)

Inquiring minds need to know how this stuff happens!

Re:But what sequence gives shape to first posts? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730096)

Don't read this... it is a curse...

In 1999, a little boy named James was sitting in his living room and watching television with his mother and father. Suddenly, the phone rang. His dad immediately answered it. To James' surprise, his dad screamed, "We don't want any pizza!" and slammed the phone down. However, a small hand reached out from inside the phone and pulled his dad right into it!

This strange occurrence terrified James (who was now shaking with fear). Then, the phone began ringing again. James, still frightened, told his mom not to answer the phone. However, she did anyway. Then James, sensing danger, ran into his parents' bedroom. From inside it, he could hear his mom scream, "We don't want any pizza!"James knew that she too had been pulled into the phone.

Feeling terribly frightened and feeling that something bad was going to happen, James did what anyone would do: strip bootyass naked and lay face-first on the floor. James then heard something break through his front door. It wasn't long before the entities made their way into his parents' bedroom and were running around James in circles at the speed of light. There were exactly two of them, and James instinctively knew that they were The Tiki Dolls. They were two wooden dolls that looked as if they were made by Indians. They had a sinister appearance.

Soon after they started running around James' body in circles, they began periodically laying their heads on James' bootyasscheek johnson ultimatum supremacies and letting loose a high-pitched screeching sound! This inflicted extreme amounts of tickle upon James' bootyass. However, since James could not move a single cheek, all he could do was try to endure the most terrible experience possible. After they screeched on his cheeks a few times, the entities were sucked into James' bootyass as if his bootyass was a gigantic spaghetti noodle. Inside his bootyass, they let loose screech after screech and inflicted more tickle upon James' bootyass than they ever had before!

Now that you have read this (even a single word of it), The Tiki Dolls will let loose high-pitched screeching sounds inside of your bootyass and inflict major amounts of tickle upon it! To prevent this from happening, copy and paste this entire comment and then repost it as a comment three times.

Re:But what sequence gives shape to first posts? (-1, Offtopic)

julesh (229690) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730720)

Have to say, that's the weirdest fucking chain mail I've ever read.

Re:But what sequence gives shape to first posts? (0)

bar-agent (698856) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731748)

Have to say, that's the weirdest fucking chain mail I've ever read.

You said it.

Procrastination gene (2, Funny)

mrops (927562) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730210)

The gene that controls procrastination

Golden Girls! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37729982)

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a cosmonaut.

And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you ever knew
You would see the biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say, thank you for being a friend.

Re:Golden Girls! (0)

aristotle-dude (626586) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731598)

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a cosmonaut.

That is confidant, not cosmonaut.

Re:Golden Girls! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37733474)

You must not visit very often.

Don't feed the trolls.

What the HOX? (1)

tedgyz (515156) | more than 2 years ago | (#37729998)

Now if only we can find the gene that causes ignorance.

Re:What the HOX? (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730122)

Now if only we can find the gene that causes ignorance.

I think that's related to the HOAX gene. :-)

Re:What the HOX? (1)

rtaylor (70602) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730204)

We are all ignorant. It would be challenging to find a single person who has all of the knowledge necessary to build a simple pencil (including extraction of raw materials; don't forget to include government applications to open the mine or take trees from the forest) let alone anything complicated.

The question is, why do we express opinion on subject matter we are ignorant in.

Re:What the HOX? (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730582)

The question is, why do we express opinion on subject matter we are ignorant in.

Our ignorance is so profound we are oftentimes ignorant of it itself.

Re:What the HOX? (1)

dimeglio (456244) | more than 2 years ago | (#37734470)

Hence the Italian proverb: Molto sa chi sa che non sa.

-Much knows someone who knows he doesn't know.

Re:What the HOX? (0)

hallucinogen (1263152) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730332)

I believe the conservative gene was identified a few years ago already..

Re:What the HOX? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730606)

Sequence 90% of Slashdot members and you will have your answer.

Re:What the HOX? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731048)

The blond gene?

For the non-molecular biologist among us (5, Informative)

GreatBunzinni (642500) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730026)

What a Hox gene might be [wikipedia.org]

Re:For the non-molecular biologist among us (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730058)

thanks that was very helpful I thought 'shape to life' was metaphor of some sort. Not literally 'shape to life'.

Precision like a Swiss watch... (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730050)

Does that not imply a Watchmaker? The necessity for such a system to function with that level of precision, and the fact that it does so often, should be an unavoidable indicator of Intelligent Design. Something this complex can't just "happen by accident".

Re:Precision like a Swiss watch... (2)

morgaen (1896818) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730094)

A watchmaker made of tides and magnets?

Re:Precision like a Swiss watch... (2)

Teun (17872) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730130)

It can also point to a system where from many divergences the slight failures land by the wayside and the successful evolve to sustainable species.

I think I'll call it Evolution.

Macro and micro (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731068)

Perhaps the best excuse I've heard from advocates of intelligent design was that God creates families, and well-documented processes of microevolution create genera and species within those families.

Re:Macro and micro (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731170)

That excuse falls down fast when you look at the genomes themselves. It's very obvious where and how the DNA has mutated, even over hundreds of millions of years. I don't mean to pick on you so much as give you ammunition with which to fire back.

Re:Macro and micro (1)

Alsee (515537) | more than 2 years ago | (#37732358)

I'd be most amused to run into an intelligent design advocate claiming God created families, and that genera and species evolved. A creationist finally admitting they're a monkey's uncle. [wikipedia.org]

-

According to its kind (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#37732472)

It all hinges on the precise meaning of the word translated "kind" in Genesis 1:21-25 [watchtower.org] and 6:20 [watchtower.org] . I guess a creationist would argue that a "kind" is very close to a modern taxonomic "family" but not exactly the same: humans aren't the same "kind" as orangutans, gorillas, and chimps, created during the fifth period, despite their modern classification into Hominidae. Humans were created during the sixth period of creation as God's attempt to see how many of his own qualities he could squeeze into free space in the chimp genome.

Re:According to its kind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37734710)

The creationist would first argue that the story in Genesis is literally true - because it says so. Then they would go from that assumption. And they wouldn't ever understand Joseph Campbell, Buddha, or probably Jesus either in any deep sense, because a mind that can only operate in a literal and authority-swallowing manner just isn't ready for your input.

Re:According to its kind (1)

Virtual_Raider (52165) | more than 2 years ago | (#37735214)

It all hinges on the precise meaning of the word translated "kind" in Genesis (...) Humans were created during the sixth period of creation as God's attempt to see how many of his own qualities he could squeeze into free space in the chimp genome.

Allow me to point out that an "omniscient" and "omnipotent" god would have no need to attempt anything. He's omnipotent, thus he can do anything and everything, no holds barred, no need to attempt something that he is guaranteed by definition to be able to do. And being omniscient he would know the outcome of any such attempt without trying.

The christian god is said to be both omniscient and omnipotent, which is one reason any human attempt to understand such a being or even explain his actions is futile, we simply couldn't. Note I'm not saying that such a god exists or doesn't, merely that all these rationalisations about his supposed motives are nonsense.

Re: (3, Insightful)

taiwanjohn (103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730278)

No, it merely affirms that all the other less precise mechanisms did not survive.

Re:Precision like a Swiss watch... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730364)

Something this complex can't just "happen by accident"

If there's an omnipotent, omniscient creator of the world, then nothing can "happen by accident." Ergo, in such a universe you would have no means to distinguish accident from non-accident.

Re:Precision like a Swiss watch... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731086)

Does anyone have any better trolls than this? Just staring at it is making me bored.

Re:Precision like a Swiss watch... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37731762)

Think about it : if you need a creator to explain the existence of the Universe, then you also need a creator to explain the existence of the creator. The ancient greek philosophers called it 'infinite regress'. I'm not saying there is or isn't any kind of 'divine creator', that would be a dogmatic statement, but the existence of a creator doesn't solve the problem of creation because who created the creator ? If you say the creator was always there, then you might as well say the Universe was always there...

Yes (1)

ecotax (303198) | more than 2 years ago | (#37732708)

Indeed it does. A blind watchmaker [wikipedia.org] , to be precise.

Re:Precision like a Swiss watch... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37732940)

A watchmaker is far more complex than a watch. Where did the watchmaker come from? If the watchmaker can exist without being created then complexity isn't an argument and the watch does not need to be created to exist either. If you argue that the watchmaker is simple but somehow capable of create something complex, then why object to the idea that a simple principle like evolution can create something complex?

Re:Precision like a Swiss watch... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37733002)

If you know how to program, try to implement a genetic algorithm. You'll be surprised how little is needed for it to actually work. Once you have done that the question is not how evolution could exist, but how it could not exist if a limited number of conditions is met. Hint: life meets those conditions.

Not in the Bible (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730074)

I am offended and pray to my lord for Daniël Noordermeer and Denis Duboule to go to hell.

They will probably go there anywhere because the place they are working for sounds french.

Obligatory Far Side (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730082)

Well, this is the creationist version of how snakes get their shape [blogspot.com] anyway

Hox genes are the basic sequence of embryogenesis (5, Insightful)

wombatmobile (623057) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730170)

TFA is saying that organisms are built in slices, from the tip of the head down to the tip of the tail. These slices are activated in order, from first to last. It is the same in fruit flies, worms, whales, dogs, monkeys, deer and humans. The HOX genes control the basic sequence, like a player piano roll or a series of punch cards.

The reason we get so many different organisms, like whales, fruit flies and elephants, is evolution [youtube.com] .

Re:Hox genes are the basic sequence of embryogenes (1)

fikx (704101) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731370)

I think the significant finding is how the layers are timed or sequenced....they knew that embryos develop in layers, they just didn't know how that was achieved. Now they do: layer after layer of the relevant DNA is exposed via a mechanical unwinding of the HOX genes.

Re:Hox genes are the basic sequence of embryogenes (1)

Walt Dismal (534799) | more than 2 years ago | (#37735122)

Organic 3D printing, okay. The printers are cheap but you have buy 18 years worth of expensive ink cartridges in a manner of speaking.

Proof reader? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730218)

"...claim to have discovered how vertebrae get build in sequence in embryos..."

I believe the correct word here should be built.

OMG!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730336)

Snakes have a defect!!!
Then, they ARE in league with the devil! Grandma was right all along!

Re:OMG!!! (1)

Virtual_Raider (52165) | more than 2 years ago | (#37735270)

Snakes have a defect!!! Then, they ARE in league with the devil! Grandma was right all along!

Crap, Annon, you beat me to it. It's only a defect if what you wanted is not a snake, for them is a feature. Opinions may vary but I for one don't feel so defective because I don't have gills or feathers for instance...

It's in Science 'cuz now we can SEE it? (4, Interesting)

enderwig (261458) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730346)

A caveat as I write this critique, I have only read the linked article and the abstract of the original scientific article, not the full Science article.
Also, I'm a Ph.D. in Developmental Biology from 2000.

If unwinding the super-coiled DNA is considered the chronometer for embryonic segmentation, what makes the DNA unwind at such a specific time? I'm not sure how much new light is shed by this work. We've known for >20 years that transcription factors help "open" DNA for the transcription process. We've also known for >20 years that HOX genes in their clusters are the masters of structural differentiation. Put these two facts together and we can see it should be obvious that the HOX genes need to be "opened" sequentially.

  In the end, we are left with the still burning question of "What controls the HOX genes and their clusters?"

Re:It's in Science 'cuz now we can SEE it? (1)

mikael (484) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730584)

Maybe it's like MIDI file format for music - there are actually instructions that specify specific time delays. Other instructions activate and deactivate notes for particular instruments. Though it doesn't actually specify what an instrument should sound like. That's the job of the other data files, known as SoundFonts.

Re:It's in Science 'cuz now we can SEE it? (1)

bhartman34 (886109) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730610)

That's kind of what I was thinking, too. I remember reading years ago about experiments w/ HOX genes (I think) where they were able to get flies' limbs to grow out of their eyes and things like that. This doesn't seem like too much of an advance to me.

Re:It's in Science 'cuz now we can SEE it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37732048)

That's kind of what I was thinking, too. I remember reading years ago about experiments w/ HOX genes (I think) where they were able to get flies' limbs to grow out of their eyes and things like that. This doesn't seem like too much of an advance to me.

Flies with limbs growing out of their eyes... what a gruesome vision! (No pun intended.)

Re:It's in Science 'cuz now we can SEE it? (2)

Suiggy (1544213) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730734)

According to a purvey of information posted on Wikipedia, Hox transcription factor proteins produced from the expression of the Hox genes activate the transcription of specific genes while at the same repressing the expression of other genes. Hox proteins are themselves regulated by other genes, such as gap genes and pair-rule genes, and there's a transcription factor cascade which controls the whole process for each stage, which has been explored in depth. Apparently, there's been a lot of work in this field since 2000.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HOX_genes [wikipedia.org]

Re:It's in Science 'cuz now we can SEE it? (3, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731242)

That may sound novel and exciting, but what you've described is how every transcription factor works. enderwig was making a point about the timing mechanism. If you leave a transcription-driven genetic circuit to keep its own clock without any assistance, it generally does a pretty bad job. There has to be something fairly elaborate guiding the chromatin unwinding.

Re:It's in Science 'cuz now we can SEE it? (1)

enderwig (261458) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731610)

Precisely. From the abstract and press release, the authors imply that the opening of the super-coiled DNA is necessary and sufficient for the HOX genes to be temporally regulated. Now parsimony and K.I.S.S. usually are the correct ways of thinking about things, but based on what we already know from 10 years ago, simple unwinding can not be the temporal mechanism.

tl;dr summary: We still don't know what starts the cascade of temporal regulation. I don't think this work moves us very far upstream in the regulatory chain.

Re:It's in Science 'cuz now we can SEE it? (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731910)

I might argue otherwise—if we can visualize the shifts in effect with this much precision, we can use bioinformatics and chemical kinetics to work our way backward and find what's generating the signal, both tasks that are comparatively well-solved.

HOTAIR? (1)

Killer Instinct (851436) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730876)

From Wiki [wikipedia.org]
Non-coding RNA (ncRNA) has been shown to be abundant in Hox clusters. In humans, 231 ncRNA may be present. One of these, HOTAIR, silences in trans (it is transcribed from the HOXC cluster and inhibits late HOXD genes) by binding to Polycomb-group proteins (PRC2).[19] The chromatin structure is essential for transcription but it also requires the cluster to loop out of the chromosomal territory.


-KI

Re:HOTAIR? (3, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731198)

Absurd names are common in molecular biology. Here [wikipedia.org] is the usual example.

Re:HOTAIR? (1)

enderwig (261458) | more than 2 years ago | (#37733448)

I remember reading that Cell article when sonic hedgehog was first published. It made me chuckle when I got to the part where they cite Sega, since I had a great time playing Sonic 1 on the Genesis at university.

many answers, but so many questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37732442)

Attempts to explain the mechanics of DNA leave me with so many burning questions I end up as a bemused pile of ash with some ACGT letters in it. Besides "What controls the HOX genes and their clusters?"

  • Article says When the time is right, the strand begins to unwind, so is there another clock that turns on this clock?
  • the genes encoding the formation of cervical vertebrae come off the spool and become activated . Beware passive voice, what activates them?
  • Does the HOX clock run in every cell? If not, which ones? If each one, what keeps them in sync? Some cells are 3 days old during this process, some are brand new
  • Wikipedia explains the protein product of the Hox gene Antennapedia activates genes that specify the structures of the 2nd thoracic segment, but when new cells form in that area weeks later, how do they know their place? Do they have a little piece of Antennapedia stuck on their office door, or a "You are here" pin on the map? (Perhaps Regulation is achieved via protein concentration gradients, called morphogenic fields "explains" that, but that just raises more questions.)
  • The article title is the mechanism that gives shape to life Go look at any medical illustration and the names given to every protrusion and fold and layer, remember there are thousands more illustrations with that level of detail, then re-read the HOX explanation. I've got about 5 orders of magnitude more structure in me than 30-odd slices. Is the HOX system reused to control the layout of my arm down to five jointed fingers? If not, what takes its place at lower levels?

I'm in awe that we can puzzle out our own creation, but either our understanding or the explanations of it are riddled with gaps.

many answers, but so many questions (1)

spage (73271) | more than 2 years ago | (#37732464)

(reposting as myself, sorry.) Attempts to explain the mechanics of DNA leave me with so many burning questions I end up as a bemused pile of ash with some ACGT letters in it. Besides "What controls the HOX genes and their clusters?"

  • Article says When the time is right, the strand begins to unwind, so is there another clock that turns on this clock?
  • the genes encoding the formation of cervical vertebrae come off the spool and become activated . Beware passive voice, what activates them?
  • Does the HOX clock run in every cell? If not, which ones? If each one, what keeps them in sync? Some cells are 3 days old during this process, some are brand new
  • Wikipedia explains the protein product of the Hox gene Antennapedia activates genes that specify the structures of the 2nd thoracic segment, but when new cells form in that area weeks later, how do they know their place? Do they have a little piece of Antennapedia stuck on their office door, or a "You are here" pin on the map? (Perhaps Regulation is achieved via protein concentration gradients, called morphogenic fields "explains" that, but that just raises more questions.)
  • The article title is the mechanism that gives shape to life Go look at any medical illustration and the names given to every protrusion and fold and layer, remember there are thousands more illustrations with that level of detail, then re-read the HOX explanation. I've got about 5 orders of magnitude more structure in me than 30-odd slices. Is the HOX system reused to control the layout of my arm down to five jointed fingers? If not, what takes its place at lower levels?

I'm in awe that we can puzzle out our own creation, but either our understanding or the explanations of it are riddled with gaps.

Re:many answers, but so many questions (1)

enderwig (261458) | more than 2 years ago | (#37733412)

so is there another clock that turns on this clock?

My guess is yes, there is something else. It may not be a protein but a small nuclear RNA.

but when new cells form in that area weeks later, how do they know their place?

Molecular landmarks sort of like what makes one intersection different from another even if both have a coffee shop, a fast food place, and a gas station. The landmarks could be on the cells, on the extracellular matrix, a diffusable protein gradient, or some other way to differentiate an environment.

Is the HOX system reused to control the layout of my arm down to five jointed fingers? If not, what takes its place at lower levels?

Actually, they are. Nature likes to re-purpose genes temporally and spacially to do more than 1 thing when in the correct environment. Scientists have a decent understanding of how fingers in a mouse and a rat are made. It's quite interesting how expression of one Hox gene creates fingers while the another one is required to create the space between our fingers.

Re:many answers, but so many questions (1)

mcswell (1102107) | more than 2 years ago | (#37734790)

"Does the HOX clock run in every cell? If not, which ones? If each one, what keeps them in sync? Some cells are 3 days old during this process, some are brand new"

I'm the original OP, and yes, I wondered about this too--particularly how the current unwinding gets transmitted down the length of the animal as the cells undergo mitosis. Or maybe it only unwinds a little with each division, and only the cells at the posterior end (which I presume are in the last segment produced) govern further division? Except that the anterior cells must be dividing too, if the anterior end continues to grow (which it obviously must, sooner or later, otherwise we'd have pinheads).

It's an interesting story, but there are lots of unanswered questions.

Re:It's in Science 'cuz now we can SEE it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37732816)

It's the genetic tik tok [youtube.com] .

Another burning question (1)

beachdog (690633) | more than 2 years ago | (#37732878)

A few years ago I found out that the explorers in the science of paper folding have proposed that any three dimensional physical object can be formed by folding a single sheet. That resonated with my contact with embryology (which included watching frog eggs divide under a stereo microscope). And it still resonates with my work with special education kids where I puzzle about which layers of their motor skill function stack are not working well.

So another burning question, or at least request for explanation is: What is the shape and structure of the embryo before the HOX genes begin unwinding. What is the shape and structure when the second HOX gene begins acting? Is there a neural tube present at this time? Does the HOX gene start a series of surface tension changes in a single cell that sets off an extrusion?

Re:It's in Science 'cuz now we can SEE it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37734938)

While eventually we will learn about the mechanism and how it opens up, one can imagine that at fertilized stage, either an enzyme or protein is also released which might open or slice the first knot on the hox strand and the rest follow. So, some simultaneous actions are taking place when an egg is fertilized. Any new development is welcome news and keep up your burning question.

Snakes (4, Insightful)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730378)

The sinuous body of the snake is a perfect illustration. A few years ago, Duboule discovered in these animals a defect in the Hox gene that normally stops the vertebrae-making process. “Now we know what’s happening. The process doesn’t stop, and the snake embryo just keeps on making vertebrae, all identical, until the process just runs out of steam.”

Looks more like a feature than a bug to me. Another fine example of evolution by mutations.

Re:Snakes (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730458)

The real amazing discovery is that snakes run on steam!

Re:Snakes (1)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730482)

I've heard a snake can grow a new tail if you cut it in half, while humans can't grow a new spine if you cut them in half. If that's true, one could argue that it's the humans with the defect.

Re:Snakes (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730778)

Cutting a snake in half would kill it. They have vital organs along almost the full body length, and it'd bleed to death anyway. Perhaps if you just cut the tip of the tail off, though... equivilent to amputating a human's legs.

Re:Snakes (2)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730866)

They can't. You're probably thinking of worms.

The only vertebrate with a (very limited) form of limb regeneration is the salamander, and that's an amphibian, not a reptile like the snake.

Re:Snakes (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#37733332)

Don't forget the various types of Glass Lizard, of which two-thirds of their legless body is tail they can detach. They superficially resemble snakes, but are not. When they regenerate their tail, it is often shorter.

Re:Snakes (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#37733356)

also the amphisbaenia, a reptile that superficially resembles a worm. It can lose and regenerate its tail. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amphisbaenia [wikipedia.org]

Re:Snakes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730746)

I wonder what would happen if the defect was fixed? Would you end up with really short snakes? Would the embryos not be viable because they've evolved too much biological dependence on the genetic defect? Or would they suddenly express dormant genes for limbs that the defect had been blocking?

Re:Snakes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730754)

Makes you wonder what a snake would look like with a "fixed" HOX gene.

Re:Snakes (1)

mbkennel (97636) | more than 2 years ago | (#37732860)

a lizard with no feet?

It would be pretty useless, can't walk and can't wriggle to move.

Re:Snakes (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#37733324)

there are lizards with no legs, Glass Lizards of the genus Ophisaurus. Two - thirds of their body is a tail which they can detach, twitching for minutes, to distract a predator.

Re:Snakes (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730768)

Looks more like a feature than a bug to me.

Not when you're on a plane!

So snakes suffer from (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730478)

an infinite loop error?

Re:So snakes suffer from (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730558)

apparently even God can miss an '='

Re:So snakes suffer from (1)

kylemonger (686302) | more than 2 years ago | (#37732952)

Tail recursion.

Defect? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37730480)

Given how old and successful snakes are as a life form, I'd hardly call this a "defect". Just a "fascinating difference" in how the genes are expressed.

Re:Defect? (1)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730676)

I'd call it a "random feature". ;)

Two headed snakes. (1)

LongearedBat (1665481) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730644)

it will grow from the top to the bottom, one slice at a time

First the neck, then the thorax, then the lumbar, and so on,”

I wonder how two headed snakes happen. According to TFA, I can imagine how a snake head could have two bodies, but I've never heard of that.

Re:Two headed snakes. (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730798)

At a guess, the process initiates at two seperate locations (Perhaps even two seperate embryos), and continues as normal until the two developing spines make contact. At which point the chemical process can't distinguish between them, so they continue growing as a single spine.

Re:Two headed snakes. (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730894)

Conjoined twins. In this case, you start out with two heads which then merge into a single body.

Re:Two headed snakes. (1)

bar-agent (698856) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731778)

Conjoined twins. In this case, you start out with two heads which then merge into a single body.

Can you have conjoined twins in an egg situation? Aren't each of the fertilized eggs isolated from each other by a membrane or incipient shell?

Re:Two headed snakes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37731834)

I think conjoined twins start out as identical twins... in the egg case they would be in the same shell.

Snake? (1)

Razed By TV (730353) | more than 2 years ago | (#37730780)

So what is the implication of the defective snake? What happens if we could repair this defect? Would it grow to encompass a different form? Or would it just be a shorter, fatter snake?
I'm sure there's a joke to be made here somewhere...

Re:Snake? (3, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#37731284)

It would either be short and fat, or dead because there wouldn't be enough room for its organs to grow. Either way, it wouldn't slither very well, and would be at something of a disadvantage.

The use of the word "defect," as you can probably already imagine, is a very biased way of looking at things and will probably do more harm than good. Although, of course, at the time the mutation first appeared, when snakes still had non-vestigial limbs, it probably was at least partially something of an inconvenience.

mo3 Up (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37732390)

Heralded as a breakthrough in politics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37732482)

Now it will be possible to correct the flawed genes and finally remove Congressmen's heads from there asses!

Great day for humanity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37732716)

Now all we have to do is copy that snake defect and build a human centipede!

Intelligent Design... (1)

FauxReal (653820) | more than 2 years ago | (#37732884)

I think stuff like this should be touted as proof of Intelligent Design... not to prove God exists but to reconcile American fundamentalist Christian ideas with science. And from there push the meme that God wants us to examine the world and understand his creation so we can bask in the wonder of His glory. Then maybe they'll ease up on trying to oppose science sometimes.

Question: How do the Jesuits feel about biological science vs. intelligent design? I assume (with total ignorance of their ideas on the subject) that they acknowledge evolution?

Re:Intelligent Design... (1)

9jack9 (607686) | more than 2 years ago | (#37733074)

"I personally never thought that there was any conflict between evolutionary explanations of change in the natural world and Roman Catholic Christianity." From "Evolutionary Biology at Regis, a Jesuit Catholic School" at http://academic.regis.edu/mghedott/evolut.htm [regis.edu] .

Re:Intelligent Design... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37733076)

You make the mistake of thinking that American fundamentalist Christians worship God. They don't. They worship the Bible.

Re:Intelligent Design... (1)

Sensible Clod (771142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37733598)

If you knew the Bible, you would not say that, because it isn't true. They do not worship the Bible; they worship the parts that seem to fit their preconceived ideas of God. It's very similar to the way some scientists and economists (among others) ignore data that doesn't fit with their conclusions.

The Catholic Church is cool with it (1)

sirwired (27582) | more than 2 years ago | (#37734828)

Galileo was a long time ago. The Catholic church, by now, has no beef with the well-settled science on Evolution, the Big Bang, etc.

Although I'm not quite sure what process they use to decide which parts should be taken literally (i.e. the resurrection of Jesus) and which should be discarded as poor translations of ancient epics (the seven days of Creation, Adam and Eve, etc.)

And it baffles me that any form of Christianity decided to include Revelation; whoever wrote that had clearly discovered some Magic Mushrooms...

This is really amazing... (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 2 years ago | (#37733390)

Wow!

Decades ago, in ninth grade biology class, I asked my biology teacher how a Hydra (or other creatures) knows how to form its shape from cells, but he hemmed and hawed, and essentially would not admit that he did not know, or even that no one knew. We had been supposed to look at some Hydra in class, but they never arrived or something like that. I later studied Hydra in Ecology and Evolution grad studies, but people still did not quite know how they formed their shapes.

A couple lessons there for me I guess including the one about some teachers and authority:
http://www.newciv.org/whole/schoolteacher.txt [newciv.org]
http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/16a.htm [johntaylorgatto.com]

In pretty much every other way he was a great teacher from my point of view back then though (aside from not being willing to admit he did not know something), because he went covered a lot of material in an interesting way, and was obviously very proud of his knowledge. He definitely sparked my interest in biology with the way he ran the class, the way he handled that question aside. Anyway, thanks for everything Mr. Nast -- one of your students went on to biology graduate studies and making biology-related software made possible by the great job you did in some blue collar high school on Long Island.

Plants work somewhat differently from animals though. My wife and I implicitly used some of the ideas related to auxins etc. in this software we wrote to breed virtual 3D plants:
http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com/PlantStudio/ [kurtz-fernhout.com]
https://github.com/pdfernhout/PlantStudio/blob/master/README.txt [github.com]

What is New Here? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37733724)

We've known about Hox genes and Hedgehog proteins for a long time. Apparently this research has improved our understanding of them, but reading TFA I'm not clear how. Can someone explain it to me?

Snake experiment (1)

FridayBob (619244) | more than 2 years ago | (#37733894)

What if someone were to take a newly created snake embryo and repair that 'defective' gene before letting it develop further? Would it automatically develop four limbs and look more like a lizard? Whatever the result, if successful it might give us some more insight into how these fascinating creatures evolved.

Plants Have Shapes (And Are Alive) Too! (1)

MaizeMan (1076255) | more than 2 years ago | (#37734102)

Obligatory post by a plant biologist who is sick of the animal folks overgeneralizing their findings in press releases.

So in the future we can build things using DNA (1)

approachingZero (1365381) | more than 2 years ago | (#37734228)

The 1st thing that comes to mind is the possibility we could construct things out of organic material now. Instead of cutting down a tree to build a house we could organize tree DNA to deliver a real tree house. Patent pending.

Other mutant HOX genes in action (1)

CozmicCharlie (1471823) | more than 2 years ago | (#37734758)

Does this mean that lawyers have mutated HOX genes that fail to unwind, thus leaving them spine-less?
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