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KNOXVILLE — By identifying two new proteins in the genes of fruit flies, a University of Tennessee professor is laying the groundwork for research that could help science better understand birth defects and infertility in humans.

The research, led by UT professor Dr. Bruce McKee and post-doctoral research fellow Dr. Sharon Thomas, appears in today-s issue of Cell, the premier journal of the life sciences. Publication in Cell is a major achievement for biological scientists.

In their analysis, McKee and Thomas found that the two proteins, called SNM and MNM, are required for the proper splitting of chromosomes that pass genes from parents to children in the process that produces sperm and eggs.

By understanding what causes these proteins to affect chromosomes in fruit flies, scientists like McKee and Thomas may be able to better understand how human chromosome problems come about and lead to birth defects and infertility.

The article is available in the Nov. 17 issue of Cell, and is available online here.