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Bring out your dead cells

Support cells in the fruit fly brain moonlight as undertakers

11:07am, May 1, 2008

Sometimes telling your neighbor “Eat me,” is a good thing. That is if you happen to be a dead or dying cell whose carcass needs disposal.

Scientists at RockefellerUniversity in New York City have discovered a protein that turns some fruit fly brain cells into semiprofessional undertakers. The discovery may shed light on what happens to millions of neurons as the brain remodels itself throughout life.

Researchers led by Ulrike Gaul, a Drosophila geneticist at Rockefeller, dubbed the newly discovered protein Six-Microns-Under, or SIMU, in honor of an HBO series called Six Feet Under about a family that runs a funeral home.

“We had to take some poetic license because cells in the fly are often less than six microns in diameter, but it was too good a name to pass up,” Gaul says.

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