" wasauthored by Hannah Seidel and colleagues.The group had previously shown that the paternal genetic element would kill embryos thatdidn't have an "antidote," and had explained the peculiar genetic arrangement that keepsthis element from being driven completely to fixation in the population. (An element thatkills everyone but itself would be expected to quickly infest the entire population, but thisdoesn't occur in the case of the peel-zeel element.) Although the authors knew a bit aboutthe antidote gene (called zeel-1), they knew nothing about the killer gene or how it worked;they knew only that it was probably very close to the antidote gene. They did have oneparticularly useful tool, especially valuable in the experimental wonderland of genetics thatis
: they had some mutants with perfectly good antidote function but no killingability. So they used those mutants to do some very nice genetic mapping experiments, anddiscovered the precise locations of the mutations that abolished the lethal effect.Interestingly, those mutations were in an "intergenic interval" in the fully-sequenced
genome, right next to zeel-1. In other words, the killing activity seemed to be rightnext to the antidote, in a part of the genome that contained no known genes. Or, moreaccurately, it contained no
genes. It turns out that we're still discovering new genes in fully-sequenced genomes. (It's actually not that easy to identify a bona fide gene ina gigantic DNA sequence.) And Seidel et al. had just discovered a new gene – the peel-1gene. It makes a protein somewhat similar to zeel-1.Once they had the actual gene in hand, the authors could probe the protein's function. They showed that it is packed into a particular type of delivery vehicle inside sperm, which arethe only cells that express it. The delivery vehicles ensure that each embryo is provided withan adequate dose of the toxin. Oddly, the lethal protein actssomewhat late in development, in skin and muscle cells, andthe embryo dies a grisly death unless it carries the antidote. Theimage on the right (from the cover of theJuly 2011 issue of
) shows two affected embryos (the blobs on theleft and right) and one happily normal worm.