Geeks Like Us Are Naming Genes

I was doing a bit of reading on Wikipedia tonight and came upon a reference to The Hedgehog Signaling Pathway. I had no idea what it was referring to, but knew it had something to do with genetics and thought it was a silly name so I decided to read more.

I didn’t have to read long before I noticed this sentence, “Mammals have three Hedgehog homologues, of which Sonic hedgehog is the best studied.” Thank you Wikipedia for linking everything that has an entry. Of course, I stopped reading about silly hedgehog pathways. I want to read about Sonic the Hedgehog! Again, I understood very little of what I was reading, but was intrigued.

Musing out loud about whether the name for the video game actually came from protein or if Wikipedia was having one of its “wee! Anyone can edit me!” moments, Dave very confidently asked, “Katie, who do we know who is a scientist?”

I replied, “Jesse Berezovsky”.

“Ok, who else?” he urged.

“Um, Molly Swanson” I answered again, puzzled.

Finally, he explained, “Now, what do you think they would name things if they discovered them?”

Right. Point taken. It’s always fun to be reminded that scientists are freaks and geeks just like my friends and me.

For more info about the controversy surrounding creative and fun naming of genes, check out the New York Times article. It’s a good read and brings up a good point about patient sensitivity.

Oh, and I have to ask…if you discovered a gene, what would you name it?


2 thoughts on “Geeks Like Us Are Naming Genes

  1. the drosophila researchers usually have the most fun with the namings. essentially, it’s relatively easy to do large mutation screens in the bugs, validate you’ve only hit one gene, then look at the fly and name the phenotype. hence sonic hedgehog, etc. here’s a fun list:

    i used to have a friend in my department who worked in zebrafish with a “piggy tail mutant” which had a mutation that resulted in a little curly tail in the fish.

  2. My favorite these days is when physicists make up an algorithm that inherently generates silly names. Take supersymmetry: in this theory every ordinary particle has a partner “superparticle” yet to be discovered. One class of these superparticles get named by adding an s to the beginning of the name of the ordinary particle. So the top quark (not an altogether un-silly name in and of itself) has a superpartner called a stop squark. STOP SQUARK!

    Also, a quote from Jessie Shelton:
    “Two years ago I decided I could call myself a phenomenologist when I was able to say “stop squark” with a straight face. Now that I’m finally there, people have started giving seminars about “quirks” and “squirks”.”

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