The organs in our body may have a sexual identity of their own, suggests research in Nature. It’s known that cells of our sex organs – the ovaries and testes – ‘know’ their sexual identity. “We wanted to ask whether this is true of cells in other adult organs – and whether that matters,” said Irene Miguel-Aliaga and Bruno Hudry, who led the research at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre. The team examined stem cells in the intestines of fruit flies. They used genetic tools to turn genes 'on' and 'off' in these cells. This allowed them to tailor cells to be more 'male' (left) or 'female' (right). Feminised cells multiplied more (multiplying cells in red). This helps females to grow larger guts to sustain pregnancy. But the team found it also makes them more susceptible to tumours (green). The findings could explain why, in people, some cancers affect men and women differently.
Find out more about this study, and further research on genes, guts and sex at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre.
Written by Deborah Oakley
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