Friday, December 14, 2012

Protein and gene names

There are lots of really great protein and gene names out there.  The Drosophila literature has that novelty in spades.  For example, the cheapdate gene makes flies get tipsy easier than your average fly;  methuselah generates flies that live longer than average; lilliputian flies are quite small.  Based on my post doctoral work, I like diaphanous, the deletion of which causes flies to have wings that are transparent.

In the realm of protein names, I think my favorite may be Shugoshin, which binds to and protects cohesin during cell division; shugoshin is the Japanese word for protector or guardian spirit.  While septin and actin were my favorite proteins when I was in the lab, they are not likely to conjure up any interesting imagery.  I suppose actin has inspired several interesting review titles (e.g. Actin up in the nucleus, Actin' like actin?). The other names that I love are those that give the impression of a gerund spoken with a southern accent.  In my reading today, I came across my new favorite protein name: fidgetin, which is a microtubule severing protein. Other protein names that make me giggle: spastin, profilactin, villin, supervillin. 

In doing a bit of research for this post, I learned that while Sega has no problem with the use of Sonic Hedgehog as a gene name, Pokemon threatened to sue if the gene name was not changed.

Of course, the other end of the spectrum exists. The protein p53 is named simply for the apparent molecular weight on SDS-PAGE.  As a graduate student, I worked with MSP, major sperm protein, named so because it was the major component of Ascaris sperm.

While this practice of creative naming may introduce troubles in creating consistency between species, it certainly can help keep scientists entertained while reading papers.  

Here is a nice list of other gene and protein names from Robert Krulwich.

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