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Fungus Finding Furthers Sensory Research

A key gene could say a lot about how organisms sense, respond to their environment

FRIDAY, March 17, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they're identified a genetic mutation that renders a fungus "blind" to light.

The finding could provide insight into how all organisms sense and respond to environmental signals, including light, touch, gravity and chemicals, they say.

This mutation, called madA, hinders the ability of a strain of filamentous fungus called Phycomyces to grow toward light.

The findings are reported by a team fom Duke University, and appear in this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The report will also appear in the March 21 print issue.

The Phycomyces fungi "can sense all kinds of environmental stimuli -- light, gravity, objects. Their spore-containing branches respond by growing in a different direction or at a different speed in reaction to such stimuli," study senior author Dr. Joseph Heitman said in a prepared statement.

The Duke team's identification of the specific mutated gene underlying the madA defect -- which solves a four decades-old genetic mystery -- may prove an important advance in the field of sensory research. It opens up the opportunity for other scientists to join the hunt for the remaining nine genes in the mad family.

It's expected that the Phycomyces genome will be completed later this year. That will enable the cloning of other mad genes, which should provide more information about how the fungus responds to light. The ultimate goal is the discovery of the molecular basis behind the perception of environmental signals, the researchers said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has information about problems with smell and taste.

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, March 13, 2006
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