Tiny, hair-like cilia protrude from almost every cell in our body. Their many vital functions include the ability to detect light entering our eyes, which enables us to see. Many inherited diseases of the sensory organs are the result of genetic defects that cause cilia malfunction (ciliopathy). For example the intraflagellar transport (IFT) family of genes, maintain healthy sensory neurons [nerve cells] because the IFT proteins they encode are vital for making cilia. Pictured is healthy tissue from the ear of a zebrafish larva. Each green-stained dot is a clump of IFT protein, at the base of each cilium protruding from the auditory cells (each seen as a dark patch between the red structural stain). Larvae with mutated IFT genes have hardly any IFT protein, and the cilia cannot function. Ciliopathies caused by genetic defects can hamper a multitude of basic process in our cells.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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