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Spider-Man's Secret

An international team of researchers has uncovered a gene they've dubbed 'spidey' that encodes a sticky substance that protects flies from environmental irritants, New Scientist reports.

The team, led by the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Joanne Yew, conducted RNAi screens combined with DART-MS and GC/MS to examine changes in flies' cuticle lipid layer. The group was particularly interested in finding out what genes control the production of such cuticular lipids, many of which act as pheromones. From this screen, they identified a dozen genes that, when silenced, affected lipid production, as the researchers report in PLOS Genetics. Silencing or overexpression of one of these genes — spidey — was lethal, they add.

"Loss of the lipids allows substances like food to accumulate on the surfaces of their legs," first author Yin Ning Chiang from the National University of Singapore tells New Scientist. "The flies eventually get completely stuck to surfaces."

This finding, New Scientist adds, could be helpful for pest control by interrupting insect mating as well as for developing surfaces that resist rust, microbes, and more.