Most of us think that sight is the most important of ours senses. But many of us lose our eyesight as we grow older. So researchers are looking at the genetic basis of the eye hoping to discover new ways to tackle age-related eye diseases.
‘Cells into Organs’ is a research project funded by the European Commission. From their location in the Biozentrum in the University of Basel these scientists have discovered that one single gene is responsible for the development of the eye. The fly was used to research this. Professor Walter Gehring is an award-winning cellular biologist. Using genetically modified animals he was able to prove that a single gene is responsible for the development of the eye in the embryo. Over a thousand genes are involved in the process of eye development in the fly, each requiring activation in the correct order. Yet the master gene Pax6 is vitally important in this process, as it activates the development of the eye. The genetically modified fly larva not only posses the normal two compound eyes, but in addition have eyes on their legs, antenna or even wings. Astonishingly, these eyes are fully functional. The discovery of the master gene Pax6 led to another important scientific discovery. Professor Gehring and his team were able to prove that the human eye is remarkably similar to that of insects. The master gene Pax6 is not only present in the fly – but does the same job in jellyfish, mice and humans. It activates the development of the eye. This film demonstrates the genetic activity within an embryo. With the help of visual media we can watch a previously marked gene. We can see precisely which gene is activated in the embryo in order for a specific organ to develop. Professor Gehring’s research at the Biozentrum n Basel is not only making waves int the scientific community, it has a much more far-reaching significance. In theory, Professor Gehring’s treatment works and early animal-tested treatments are showing positive results. The possibility of treatment for humans is still some time off – another 5 to 10 years of research and testing are needed. But eventually, the work at the Biozentrum in Basel could help millions of people around the world who are losing their sight due to age-related macular degeneration. For more information about age-related macular degeneration see: