Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research have made a surprising discovery regarding fruit flies. For the past two decades, it was widely believed that fruit flies and potentially all insects lacked a specific type of protein called BH3-only proteins, which play a crucial role in initiating programmed cell death, or apoptosis, in response to cellular stress.
However, the RIKEN geneticists, led by Sa Kan Yoo, have found evidence that fruit flies do indeed possess a BH3-only protein. They named the corresponding gene “sayonara,” after the Japanese word for “farewell.” When the researchers induced the expression of the sayonara gene in fruit-fly wings, they observed apoptosis taking place, resulting in the withering of the wings.
The discovery of this protein challenges the long-standing belief that fruit flies follow a different cell-death program. It suggests that fruit flies and possibly other insects share a similar mechanism for regulating apoptosis as humans and nematodes. This finding highlights the importance of reevaluating previous assumptions and underscores the need for comprehensive genomic sequencing to uncover hidden genetic elements.
Yoo and his team are now focusing on understanding the precise sequence of events that occur once the BH3-only protein is activated. They are also exploring whether other insects possess BH3-only proteins, which would further support the notion of a conserved apoptotic pathway across different species.