A molecular signaling pathway once thought to maintain cell survival actually helps control epithelial cell shape and organization, US and German researchers show in two fruit fly studies published by Science this week.

"In nature, different organisms sculpt epithelial sheets into a bewildering array of forms, but relatively little is known about the mechanisms involved," coauthor Matthew Gibson of Harvard University told The Scientist. "This pathway or related ones could perhaps have conserved function in epithelial morphogenesis in other organismal systems."

Gibson and senior coauthor Norbert Perrimon screened for genetic factors that control epithelial cell shape during Drosophila wing development. They used a tissue-specific Gal4 driver to direct expression of flipase in wing epithelia at different stages of development. This catalyzed mitotic recombination between a mutagenized chromatid bearing a flipase recombination target and its green-fluorescent protein (GFP) tagged homolog, producing both a homozygous mutant GFP-negative cell and a...

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