Better Than One?

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Science  20 Feb 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5661, pp. 1134
DOI: 10.1126/science.303.5661.1134d

Always wanted a two-headed fish for your aquarium? You may yet get lucky.

Huang Chang-Jen, a biochemist at Academia Sinica's Institute of Biological Chemistry in Taipei, Taiwan, was developing transgenic zebrafish to study muscular dystrophy. He injected 200 fish embryos engineered to express green fluorescent protein with several genes associated with apoptosis, plus a “muscle-specific promoter,” in hopes of observing the degenerative process in action.

CREDIT: H. CHANG-JEN/INST. OF BIOL. CHEM./ACADEMIA SINICA

But 24 hours later, one of the developing embryos grew two heads. At first he thought it was a fluke. But a second try with another batch of embryos produced a pair of the two-headed beasts, which also sported separate hearts and other internal organs. Thinking he might be on to something, Huang contacted the Taiwanese supplier of the fish, which were developed in Singapore, and asked if there might be a market for two-headed fish. “They were not interested,” Huang says.

So he returned to his lab—but with an added research objective: to generate more two-headed fish in hopes of learning what causes conjoined human twins. “We are now interested in the mechanism that causes this,” he says. One of the apoptosis genes also plays a role in right-left development, but researchers don't yet know if it is the culprit or why it might go haywire.

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