Nature’s operating system – an essay by Christopher V.E. Wright, D.Phil.  pg. 4

Hedgehog is multifunctional: it helps define the subtypes and spatial arrangement of neurons in many areas of the central nervous system, and the number and type of digits on the limbs. In some contexts, it controls the degree of cell proliferation, and we have found causative links between defective “always-on” signaling from the Hedgehog receptor and basal cell skin carcinoma.

Abnormal activation of other types of intercellular signals also has been found to be central to the development or progression of certain cancers. Among them: signals involving the “Wnt” family of related proteins that are, again, known to play similar roles in fruit flies and vertebrates.

There are many compelling examples to recite among the vast number of discoveries that are relevant to human disease and congenital problems. The articles in this issue cover several of them, hopefully conveying some of the sense of wonder and tremendous discoveries that have been and continue to be made.

I am reminded that it is a deep-seated scholarly drive that often provides a great stimulus toward determining, before anyone else, how a particular process works. Indisputably, some of the most telling discoveries relevant to human health were realized only after years of dedicated and tenacious scientific study. It is hard, however, to predict where the most translatable findings will come from next. In this field, perhaps more than in any other, we have learned over and over again that high quality basic research in esoteric or high-risk areas can often reap unexpected and large rewards.

Meanwhile, those of us in science hope to experience, more than once, that pure rush we feel when, looking down a microscope or learning of others’ findings in papers or at seminars, we suddenly see evidence of the totally unexpected way that nature runs things. In the end, the beauty and economy of biology always stand paramount.

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