Experts from the University of Sheffield have identified the genetic switch that helps explain which parts of the Christmas turkey are white meat and which are dark. Dr Philip Ingham and his colleagues have worked on fish muscle cells to find a genetic switch that determines muscle fibre type in all vertebrates. The full paper will be published online by Nature on 21 December.
It has long been known that dark meat is made up of slow twitch muscle fibres, which is specialised for extended exertions, such as the long flight of ducks and geese. White meat is made up fast muscle, which fuels quick bursts of effort such as the short flights of turkeys and chickens.
Dr. Ingham, of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sheffield, has determined that Blimp-1 is the genetic switch that determines muscle fibre type in the embryo. He explains, “We have seen Blimp-1 before, as it is also used to determine the type of some white blood cells, but this is the first time it has been linked to muscle development. The find is particularly important because it is likely that the same switch is used in mammals, fish and birds. From this we can conclude that Blimp-1 is a key regulator of slow twitch muscle in all animals. This finding has implications for future research into how muscle genes are switched on and off and could provide new ways of manipulating the proportions of slow and fast twitch fibres in muscles.”
This three year project was funded by the Wellcome Trust, with support from the Medical Research Council.
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