How the Nobel Prize Celebrated Halloween

In many countries, October 31 is “All Hallows Evening,” a time for remembering the dead.  Halloween is celebrated with ghosts and other scary things.

Speaking of scary things, some German geneticists were studying the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.  They discovered a few key genes that control embryonic development.  When these genes were mutated, they would drastically affect the fly’s exoskeleton.  For their work, the geneticists received the 1995 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

These geneticists apparently had a sense of humor, because they named the genes according to the physical defects they cause:

  • Disembodied (“no differentiation of cuticle and head skeleton”)
  • Haunted (“only head skeleton visible”)
  • Mummy (“mouth parts and denticles poorly differentiated”)

As other genes were discovered, they were named spook, spookier, phantom, ghost, shroud, shadow and shade.

Years later, an American geneticist dubbed the collective group the “Halloween Genes.”  The name has stuck ever since.

Agilent technologies, which are just about everywhere, are used in Halloween Gene research.

Australian researchers are using an Agilent Bioanalyzer System to study some currently unnamed Drosophila melanogaster genes, to determine if they should be given the status of “Halloween Genes.”

Chinese researchers used an Agilent liquid chromatograph, QQQ mass spectrometer and Agilent Jet Stream to study the role that phantom plays in the white-backed planthopper insect Sogatella furcifera.

And another group of Australian researchers are studying the Halloween Genes in crustaceans.  They are using an Agilent UHPLC, mass spectrometer, multimode source and MassHunter software in their work.

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