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18 Gene Names that Cover the Gamut, From Movies to Pop Culture to Cartoons

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Some might believe that scientists stay holed up in their laboratories wearing white coats, mixing chemicals, and hanging out with lab animals, but the truth is that we do get out occasionally. That influence from the outside world continually creeps in and shows up in new discoveries—in the form of creative gene names. Varying expression of single genes in model organisms helps scientists to determine what they do. The results of the mutations are often quite humorous, resulting in equally funny names for the genes responsible. Though most gene names are relatively boring—combinations of letters and numbers in what appear to be random sequence—when scientists let loose, movies, TV, awkward social situations, and folk characters all provide a bit of comic relief to the normal, stuffier, scientific terminology.

1. and 2. Grim and Reaper


When these two genes work together, they help guide cells in flies through their death process, apoptosis—much like that spectre of 15th century folklore, the Grim Reaper.

3. Tinman

When a mouse embryo has a mutated version of this gene, it will develop with no heart, just like the Tinman from the Wizard of Oz.

4. Casanova

Zebrafish with this gene mutation are born with two hearts. Eighteenth century Italian womanizer, song, movie, TV series—regardless of the reference, this fish can probably spread more love than any human heartthrob.

5. Rolling Stones

When zebrafish have this mutation, the otoliths, or particles located in the ear that help to control equilibrium, are in abnormal locations. Their stones have indeed been rolled, but the gene name probably resulted from too much hard rock music in the lab.

6. Spock


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Zebrafish with this gene mutation develop pear-shaped ears, which probably reminded the researcher of the Vulcan’s phenotypic pointy ear shape.

7. and 8. Van Gogh

This gene mutation varies between species. In zebrafish, the result of a mutation is very small ears; in fruit flies, the wings develop in a swirly pattern. The zebrafish gene subtly references when Van Gogh cut off one of his ears, while the fruit fly gene creates a wing pattern reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

9. Sonic Hedgehog

This gene mutation causes fly embryos to be covered in projections that resemble spikes; the researcher who discovered it was reminded of a certain blue videogame and TV character, Sonic the Hedgehog. It is currently a popular gene of study because of its relationship with stem cells and cancer development, and thus is mentioned frequently in scientific literature.

10. Callipyge

A Greek term that translates to "beautiful buttocks." A mutation in this gene causes sheep to develop very large, muscular, hind ends.

11. Dumpy

Cousin of Sleepy, Dopey, and Grumpy? Not exactly, but a mutation in this gene does cause a type of worm, C. elegans, to develop in an irregular manner. Instead of appearing long and slender — typical worm shape — they become short, fat and, dare we say, dumpy? A similar type of mutation in humans is responsible for disorders such as osteogenesis imperfecta, brittle bone disease.

12. INDY

This gene name is an acronym for “I'm Not Dead Yet,” a reference to a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. A mutation in this gene increases the lifespan, or causes fruit flies to be “not dead,” about twice as long as normal, wild flies.

13. Dracula


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The zebrafish that have this mutation are definitely sensitive to light (though you probably couldn't ward them off with garlic). When these fish are exposed to light, their blood cells all burst, and the fish then die, similar to how Dracula would react when faced with the sun.

14. Brainiac

This gene brings back memories from the 90’s cartoon, Pinky and the Brain. One would imagine that Brain might have had a similar genetic mutation, one that causes excess development of brain cells in fruit flies, explaining his genetically altered, enlarged head.

15. Cheap Date

Flies with this mutation are extremely sensitive to alcohol—they only need a few drops to appear drunk.

16., 17., and 18. Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Riesling

There are also several zebrafish mutants with alterations to genes that result in lower than normal numbers of red blood cells. The alterations cause each fish to have blood that varies in color. The shades of red inspired each gene to be named after a variety of wine, each of which shares a similar hue with the fish's blood.

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Big Questions
Where Does the Word 'Meme' Come From?
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By Jenna Scarbrough

Certain fads, catchphrases, dances, and songs bombard our society—nowadays, almost all of these are either born on or popularized through the Internet. Grumpy Cat, Rickrolling, Left Shark, the optical illusion dress—all of these ubiquitous cultural sensations have this in common. Some of these stick for a while, some don’t. Those that stick are branded as memes. But what exactly is a meme?

In 1976, Richard Dawkins, the English evolutionary biologist, proposed an idea in his book, The Selfish Gene: What if ideas were like organisms, where they could breed and mutate? These ideas, he claimed, are actually the basis for human culture, and they are born in the brain.

Dawkins’s research is primarily in genetics. He has argued that all life relies on replication. But unlike cells, ideas do not rely on a chemical basis for survival. They begin from a single location—the brain—and spread outward, jumping from one vessel to another, battling for attention. Some ideas are more successful, which may be due to an element of truth they carry, while others slowly die out. Some may not be accurate, but society has accepted these ideas for so long that they are just accepted (think about pictures of Jesus or George Washington; while these may not be what they actually looked like, almost all art now portrays these men in the same way).

Dawkins needed a name for this concept. He proposed calling it mimeme, from the Greek word meaning “that which is replicated.” He wrote in his book, “I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.” He felt the monosyllabic word would be more fitting because it sounds similar to "gene." “If it is any consolation,” he continued, “it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory,’ or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream.’”

Although he probably couldn’t imagine the possibility of Internet memes during his initial research in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Dawkins has now accepted the appropriation. Because it’s still viral, he said in an interview with WIRED, this popularity increase goes right along with his theory that ideas are similar to living things.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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25 Awesome Australian Slang Terms
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by Helena Hedegaard Holmgren 

Australian English is more than just an accent, and the Aussie vernacular can easily leave both English speakers and foreigners perplexed. Australian English is similar to British English, but many common words differ from American English—and there are many unique Aussie idiosyncrasies, slang terms, and expressions.

The term for Aussie slang and pronunciation is strine, and it is often characterized by making words as short as possible; the story goes it developed by speaking through clenched teeth to avoid blowies (blow flies) from getting into the mouth. So if you plan to visit the world’s smallest continent, this list of some of the most commonly used slang expressions is for you.

1. Arvo: afternoon

2. Barbie: barbeque

3. Bogan: redneck, an uncultured person. According to the Australian show Bogan Hunters, a real bogan sports a flanno (flannel shirt), a mullet, missing teeth, homemade tattoos (preferably of the Australian Flag or the Southern Cross), and has an excess of Australia paraphernalia. This "species of local wildlife" can be found by following their easily distinguishable tracks from burnouts or the smell of marijuana.

4. Bottle-O: bottle shop, liquor store

5. Chockers: very full

6. Esky: cooler, insulated food and drink container

7. Fair Dinkum: true, real, genuine

8. Grommet: young surfer

9. Mozzie: mosquito

10. Pash: a long passionate kiss. A pash rash is red irritated skin as the result of a heavy make-out session with someone with a beard.

11. Ripper: really great

12. Roo: kangaroo. A baby roo, still in the pouch, is known as a Joey

13. Root: sexual intercourse. This one can get really get foreigners in trouble. There are numerous stories about Americans coming to Australia telling people how they love to "root for their team." If you come to Australia, you would want to use the word "barrack" instead. On the same note, a "wombat" is someone who eats roots and leaves.

14. Servo: gas station. In Australia, a gas station is called a petrol station. If you ask for gas, don’t be surprised if someone farts.

15. She’ll be right: everything will be all right

16. Sickie: sick day. If you take a day off work when you are not actually sick it’s called chucking a sickie.

17. Slab: 24-pack of beer

18. Sook: to sulk. If someone calls you a sook, it is because they think you are whinging

19. Stubbie holder: koozie or cooler. A stubbie holder is a polystyrene insulated holder for a stubbie, which is a 375ml bottle of beer.

20. Sweet as: sweet, awesome. Aussies will often put ‘as’ at the end of adjectives to give it emphasis. Other examples include lazy as, lovely as, fast as and common as.

21. Ta: thank you

22. Togs: swim suit

23. Tradie: a tradesman. Most of the tradies have nicknames too, including brickie (bricklayer), truckie (truckdriver), sparky (electrician), garbo (garbage collector) and chippie (carpenter).

24. Ute: Utility vehicle, pickup truck

25. Whinge: whine

Good onya, mate! Understanding the Aussies should be easy as now.

Additional Sources: Urban Attitude; All Down Under - Slang Dictionary; Australian Words - Meanings and Origins; Australian Dictionary; Koala Net; Australian Explorer; Up from Australia; YouTube, 2; McDonalds.

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