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14 of the Funniest Fruit Fly Gene Names

Fruit flies (Drosophila Melanogaster) are the favourite model organisms of most geneticists, since researchers consider Drosophila melanogaster as “the poster child for genetics” because of the ease at which they can be manipulated and the spped at which effects can be observed. These sticky insect are obviously very different to humans, but studying them is stil beneficial as they carry many genes which are orthologs to the genes in vertebrates.

When I started research in Fruit Fly Genetics research I found it fascinating to learn about the mutant fruit fly names, which range from funny to slightly disturbing.

Here is the list of some interesting mutant gene names and their functions.

1. Indy gene (I‘m Not Dead Yet)

The indy gene encodes for an intermediate transporter protein in the Krebs Cycle; flies with mutations in this gene have longer than average lifespan.1,2 There is some controversy surrounding this gene, with reports that mutation does not result in increased longevity.3

2. Boss gene (Bride Of Sevenless)

Boss gene encodes a cell-surface receptor tyrosine kinase and this gene helps in photoreceptor cell (R-cell) development in the Drosophila compound eye. The flies carrying mutation in Boss gene fails to differentiate into a specific photoreceptor cell type called R7 cell.4 Bride of Sevenless gets its name from being the ligand which is binds to Sevenless,5,6 and is thus married to it.

3. Ken and Barbie

This gene encodes a putative transcription factor that functions in treminalia development in the fruit fly. Mutation in this gene leads to malformation in fruit fly’s genitalia development, meaning they lack external genitalia, just like our faithful Ken and Barbie dolls.7

4. Cheap Date

Flies with a mutation in this gene are very susceptible to alcohol.8 Interestingly, this gene is alternatively known as Amnesiac, since mutations in this gene also causes memory impairment.9

5. Lush

Flies with mutant LUSH gene are unusually attracted to ethanol, propanol and butanol but have normal chemosensory responses to other odorants.10

6. Halloween Genes

This group of genes includes disembodied, spook, spookier, shadow, shade, shroud and phantom and all encode P450 enzymes which are involved in the synthesis of steroid hormones.11 Flies with mutations in Halloween Genes have altered exoskeleton development, giving the embryos a spooky appearance.

7. 18 Wheeler

This gene encodes a Toll-like receptor (TLR) and mutations in this gene result in defect in salivary gland invagination.12 This gene gets its name due to the segmented expression pattern which is thought to resemble a tarpaulin  covering an 18-wheeler truck.

8. Tinman

This gene encodes a transcription factor which is involved in the formation of heart and dorsal vascular musculature. Flies with mutations in this gene have no heart, just like the tinman from OZ.13,14

9. Clown

This gene plays an important role in development and flies carrying mutations in this gene have an altered neuronal differentiation pattern. Because of this the eyes of clown flies are a mosaic of white and red.15,16

10. Van Gogh

Mutations in the Van Gogh gene affect the polarity of adult Drosophila cuticular structures and result in swirling of hair on the wing – hence the reference to Van Gogh.17

11. Dachshund

This gene encodes a nuclear protein that is required for normal development of the eye and leg. Mutations within this gene result in flies that have crippled legs, thus resembling a dachshund.18

12. Dreadlocks

This gene encodes an adapter protein which is required for the targeting and photoreceptor axon guidance. The R cell projections in Dreadlock gene mutants become disorganised and clump together, like dreadlocks.19

13. Swiss Cheese

The swiss cheese mutant causes glial hyperwrapping and brain degeneration in Drosophila. The brain of mutant flies has holes, just like swiss cheese!20

14. Hedgehog

This gene is a Drosophia segment polarity gene. Mutant larvae have an excess of denticles along their antero-posterior axis reminiscent of hedgehog spines.21

Know any other cool gene names? Leave them in the comments below.

Useful References:

  1. Tomlinson A et al. (1986) Sevenless: a cell-specific homeotic mutation of the Drosophila eyeScience. 231:400–2.
  2. Quinn WG et al. (1979) The Drosophila memory mutant amnesiac.  277:212–4.
  3. Taylor J et al. (1998) Van Gogh: a new Drosophila tissue polarity gene.  150:199–210.
  4. Nüsslein-Volhard C et al. (1980) Mutations affecting segment number and polarity in DrosophilaNature. 287:795–801.
Image Credit: Image Editor


  1. Sam on February 1, 2020 at 11:58 pm

    My favorite is Mothers Against Drosophila

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