- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005


Many parents of sulky teenagers who just yesterday were cute children have asked in frustration, “Why do they ever grow up?”

The answer, at least in fruit flies, is a gene called DHR4, which seems to be the key regulator for the onset of sexual maturity in the insects.

When the gene is disabled, fruit flies prematurely mature into abnormally small adults that die well short of the bug’s normal two-month life span.

“We identified a gene that is needed for the animal to progress through normal juvenile development to maturation. Without this gene, the juvenile stage is shortened, and it enters adulthood early,” said Carl Thummel, a geneticist at the University of Utah and principal author of the study published Friday in the journal Cell.

“The animal then dies because the gene also is needed for continued maturation.”

Although the human counterpart to the DHR4 gene probably doesn’t work exactly the same way, the findings are relevant because insect metamorphosis parallels the transformation of children to a “mature, sexually reproductive adult,” Mr. Thummel said.

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