Flash forward genetics: new twists in transcription across evolutionary boundaries

EMBO Rep. 2021 Mar 3;22(3):e52152. doi: 10.15252/embr.202052152. Epub 2021 Feb 8.


"Flash forward genetics" refers to a genetic approach based on the functional interaction of a given factor with unknown partner(s) converging on shared targets across evolutionary boundaries. A study by Li et al (2021), published in this issue of EMBO Reports, illustrates the innovative potential of the approach. The authors applied it to identify interacting factors for FOXN1, a mammalian transcription factor with a highly specialized function in hair follicle morphogenesis and thymus. The authors express FOXN1 in the Drosophila eye to perform an unbiased genetic screen in a totally heterologous system. In a remarkable tour de force, the authors identify and characterize a factor so far known for its ubiquitous function in transcription elongation, AFF4. Li et al show that AFF4 plays also a specific role in hair follicle and thymus development in the mouse overlapping with that of FOXN1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors* / genetics
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors* / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Hair Follicle* / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude


  • Forkhead Transcription Factors