Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mutation of the Kamikaze gene impairs window glass-crashing in flies

Mi Yen, Hose Konlado and Tamu Tokao
Kyoto Insurance Institute, Kyoto, Japan

Windshield-head crash (WC) is the major direct cause of human death in traffic accidents in developed countries. Here, using the fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism, we report the identification of the gene responsible for the stubborn crashing against glass windows displayed by most of the fly species, and extend this finding to a highly related gene in humans. Flies were mutagenized and selected for their ability to avoid glass crashing in fly-flight simulation chambers under WC-like conditions. After thirteen rounds of selection, a fly strain (kaka1) was obtained which manifested a strong and rapid preventive response against glass crashing. Kaka1 flies avoided crashing by diminishing the speed at the proximity of the glass, followed by a paused flying backwards. Genome analysis of the kaka1 strain identified the gene responsible of the WC-like response in flies, which was named as Kamikaze. Targeted inhibition of Kamikaze expression on wild type flies abrogated glass-crashing induced by light. Conversely, ectopic overexpression of Kamikaze protein produced hypersensitivity to glass-crashing inducers, with devastating consequences. Computational search for Kamikaze related genes revealed the existence of an orthologous gene in humans, located at the tip of the chromosome Y, which displayed variability in copy-number among individuals. Remarkably, this gene was absent from all other living organisms, with the exception of some blowflies and mosquitos, suggesting an unique function for Kamikaze, conserved in flies and humans along evolution, in the prevention of glass crashing during flying or car driving. Preliminary genetic analysis of a random population of alive or WC-dead male drivers indicated a strong negative correlation between the number of copies of Kamikaze and driving survival. Our findings demonstrate the involving of Kamikaze in WC, and suggest that Kamikaze inhibitors could be used to ameliorate the burden of traffic accident-associated mortality in modern human society. Supplementary information at El Garrofer.

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