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Mutant clock gene keeps fruit flies going
By Birgit Hofmann

Just like any other organism, the fruit fly has a biological clock. This internal timer produces a circadian rhythm that determines the time to sleep and wake. And just like any other animal, Drosophila's day-night cycle gets out of synch when it's exposed to intense constant light. That's true for normal flies, but not for a newly discovered mutant.

A group of scientists, led by Michael Rosbash of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., has identified a mutation that prevents flies from losing their sense of day and night even when exposed to intense illumination. The normal gene encodes a cryptochrome called dCRY, a light-absorbing protein involved in the biological clock. Fruit flies with the faulty gene for dCRY continue to show a daily rhythm even when exposed to long periods of intense light.

In the March 30, 2000 issue of Nature, the research team concludes that dCRY is a unique circadian-rhythm light receptor, and probably the only dedicated one in fruit flies.

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Emery, P. et al. A unique circadian-rhythm photoreceptor. Nature 404, 456-457 (March 30, 2000).

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