Gene That Controls Cell Size Found

5:45 PM EST; September 23, 1999; Washington, D.C. (AP) -- The laboratory fruit flies are shaped right and have perfectly formed cells, but they are about half the size of normal flies because of gene manipulation. Researchers at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland report in the journal Science that fruit flies missing a single gene, called "dS6K," develop more slowly and grow to adults that are only about 46 percent the size of normal fruit flies.

The study, to be published tomorrow, shows that the dS6K gene controls the size of cells in the body. Flies that lack the gene had the normal number of cells, but each cell was about a third the size of similar cells in normal flies. The researchers also found that the loss of dS6K function caused cells to reproduce more slowly and that it took several days longer for mutant flies to grow from larvae to adults. The research is an effort to learn how specific genes affect development. Fruit flies are studied because they share many of the same fundamental genes as human beings.