‘Wurst’ ensures proper functioning of the respiratory system in fruit flyPublished On: Thu, Jun 14th, 2007 | Developmental Biology | By BioNews
June 14 : A newly discovered transmembrane protein called ‘Wurst’ has been found to ensure the proper formation and functioning of the respiratory system in common fruit fly.
The new finding by researchers at the University of Bonn and the Göttingen-based Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry suggests that the protein may offer an exciting starting point for the development of new drugs to treat respiratory problems such as impaired lung function in premature infants.
Insects do not have lungs, and the gas exchange function in them is performed by means of small holes in the chitin exoskeleton. Oxygen is delivered to the cells via an extensive system of air-conveying tubes, known as tracheae, which split into ever smaller branches, ending in ultra-fine end sections that deliver the respiratory gas into the tissue.
“The tracheae system in insects reveals similarities to our own lungs. Our lungs also consist of a system of tubes that branch out like trees, finally ending in the air cells called alveoli. This is where the inhaled oxygen enters the blood.” Nature magazine quoted the Bonn-based development biologist Professor Dr. Michael Hoch as explaining.
He further said that another factor that made tracheal breathers and lung breathers similar was that the respiratory tubes are initially filled with liquid in their early development.
The researchers say that at the birth of a child, and also during the hatching of fly larvae, the tiny air ducts have to be drained so that the respiratory gas can fill the tubes, and thus secure the organism’s survival. It is precisely at this step in the process that the newly discovered transmembrane protein seems to play a vital role.
“Flies found to have defective genetic information for the protein will not survive. Their tracheae remain filled with liquid. Moreover, their tubes expand in a sausage-like fashion, which is why we have called the protein ‘Wurst’, German for sausage,” Hoch pointed out.
“The name we have chosen derives from the effect that the respective molecule develops when it does not work,” he added.
The researchers carefully examined how the protein behaves, and found out that it performs a key function in endocytosis, the mechanism by which cells absorb substances from their environment.
Since mice and humans also have a single “Wurst” gene, the researchers are now planning to study what happens when the gene is switched off in laboratory mice. (ANI)