Ben Ewen-Campen of Harvard Medical School came to speak at Bowdoin recently at the invitation of Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Biology Hadley Horch. While Ewen-Campen has studied birds, beetles and fruit flies in his biology career, his lecture last week focused on just one gene found in crickets.
Gryllus bimaculatus, the same species of cricket Horch studies, is a useful model for embryonic research because females can lay over 100 eggs. Ewen-Campen is particularly interested in germ cells (which give rise to eggs and sperm) because he says these cells are the link between generations. Germ cells as a linkage is a powerful concept applicable to many species, including humans, he said.
In his research on fruit flies, Ewen-Campen came across a gene, oskar, that is the fly’s only gene capable of producing germ plasm for the formation of germ cells. Later, in his cricket research, he discovered that the same oskar gene is found in crickets. But crickets don’t have germ plasm. So what does the gene do?
Through knockdown experiments and protein visualization techniques, Ewen-Campen discovered that oskar is highly expressed in adult crickets’ neural stem cells and plays a role in memory function.
While the molecular function of the oskar gene is still being researched, Ewen-Campen highlighted how incredible it is that one gene thought to be specific to germ cells can also have a unique function in the nervous system. Indeed, scientists are discovering that an increasing number of genes overlap between germline stem cells and neural stem cells.