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Researcher to look for genes that can suppress epileptic seizures in fruit flies

April 10, 2016

The mutant snippet very closely resembles the unmutated para gene, so when it is floating freely, it will be picked up by the cell's natural DNA repair machinery and plopped into exactly the right place on the right chromosome. In this way the fly embryos are more likely to grow up to have engineered epilepsy.

In almost every fly where the rearrangement works, the fly's eyes turn out a tell-tale red instead of their usual white. To find the flies with the epilepsy mutation, undergraduates in Reenan's lab merely need to look for the flies with the red eyes.

Cast of thousands

As Reenan and his group create and breed more and more epileptic flies, they can build a large enough population to induce mutations with chemical mutagens or radiation. Somewhere in all that genetic code that thousands of flies carry around, he's betting, some switch will flip and a mutation will turn out to interfere with epilepsy and suppress seizures in flies that were created to have them. In essence, the flies will then contain what he calls "a genetic cure."

This is clearly a methodology that cannot be employed with people, but given the genetic overlap between para and SCN1A, if there's a genetic means to combat epilepsy in people, Reenan's flies might reveal it.

"With epilepsy, the treatments are generally fairly broad and with a lot of side effects and we don't really understand epileptigenesis - why do seizures happen, how are we going to treat them," Reenan said. "So the idea is pretty simple. Let's just use standard fruit fly suppressor genetics and find mutations that suppress or cure the seizures."

Source: Brown University