Neurospora Genetics Research: Definition & Characteristics

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

Many different organisms have been used in genetics research. We are going to discuss the use of Neurospora in genetics research and why they are a good model organism.

Neurospora

We've learned so much about how our bodies function. Despite how much we know, there's still more to learn. Scientists are able to learn more about how we function by doing research. I don't know about you, but I'm not exactly dying to be a part of a science experiment. Luckily, we don't have to do that. There are other organisms in our world that scientists can experiment on to gain knowledge.

One organism that has and continues to be used in research is Neurospora. These are a genus of filamentous fungi that have striated spores and produce an orange color when cultured. They've been used in different types of scientific studies, but they have most notably been used in genetics research.

Characteristics of Neurospora

Now you may be wondering why scientists would select this genus of fungi out of all of the possible organisms they could do genetic research on. There are multiple reasons why Neurospora are the genus of choice for genetics research.

Oncom, a type of neurospora
oncom_type_of_neurospora

First, Neurospora are very easy to grow and they have a simple, short life cycle. This is important in genetics research because scientists want to be able to get the results from genetic studies within a relatively short time span. If the research were done on most mammals, scientists would have to wait months or even years to get one set of results. Neurospora complete their life cycle in approximately 10-15 days.

Secondly, Neurospora are haploid, meaning there's only one set of genes. This is as opposed to being diploid, meaning there are two sets of genes. This matters in genetics research because it allows the dominant and recessive traits to be expressed in the offspring.

Another positive characteristic of Neurospora that helps in genetics research is that they have tetrads, or sets of four chromatids. This allows geneticists to study meiosis and events such as crossing over. Crossing over is the exchange of pieces of chromatids with each other based on a location where they overlap each other.

There are some other reasons why Neurospora are good to use in genetics research, though not because of their characteristics. The entire genome for Neurospora has been mapped. This means that geneticists know the location of specific genes within the DNA of Neurospora. That is helpful because the research being conducted may be looking at the function of a specific gene. Knowing the gene is located helps to determine its function because the geneticists can manipulate the specific gene while leaving the rest of the genome intact.

The entire genome for Neurospora has been mapped, making finding specific genes is incredibly easy for scientists
map_of_genome

Along the same lines, Neurospora are also great in genetics research because there are many strains of the fungi available to use for research studies. This includes strains where certain genes may already be mutated which can make research easier depending on what is being studied.

Let's get more specific by looking at research that has been or is being conducted using Neurospora.

Neurospora's Uses in Research

One area of genetics research using Neurospora deals with circadian rhythms. A circadian rhythm is an internal 24 hour clock that dictates sleepiness and being awake. Neurospora have a 24 hour circadian rhythm just like humans. Geneticists have conducted studies by producing mutations to determine which genes control circadian rhythms as well as how circadian rhythms can be altered.

A diagram depicting the circadian rhythm that both humans and Neurospora both have
circadian_rhythm

Another area of Neurospora genetics research is gene expression. There are two aspects to gene expression research using Neurospora. While the genome of Neurospora has been mapped, the function of each gene identified has yet to be determined. Geneticists can mutate or remove each gene one by one to see what changes in the phenotype, which is the observed characteristic controlled by a gene.

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