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Hot clock key to fruit fly’s global spread

Heat-sensitive genetic molecule may have enabled some species to survive in wider range of climates

Sometimes, survival of the fittest means dependence on weak links.

Widely distributed fruit fly species have a temperature-sensitive step in the manufacture of a key part in their biological clocks. The heat-sensitive stumbling block may be the reason Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila simulans have been able to spread to temperate zones while their cousins haven’t, a new study in the Dec. 26 Neuron suggests.

Previously, a research team led by molecular biologist Isaac Edery of Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., had discovered that, when the temperature rises, Drosophila melanogaster’s production of a major gear in the clock that governs its daily rhythms melts down. The gear, a protein known as PERIOD, helps set the circadian clock in fruit flies and many other animals.

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