In most eucaryotes the tubulin genes comprise small multigene families with approximately equal numbers of genes for alpha- and beta-tubulin, the structural proteins of microtubules. The recent isolation of tubulin mutations in several species is proving to be a powerful tool for examining the structure and function of specific sets of microtubules. In Drosophila melanogaster, genetic analysis of a testis-specific beta-tubulin gene has shown that a single tubulin gene product may fulfill a number of different microtubule functions. In addition to tubulin mutations, mutations in other genes whose products are involved in the regulation or structure of specific microtubule arrays have also been isolated. The combination of analysis of both classes of mutations is beginning to allow a molecular description of the construction and function of three-dimensional cellular structures. In addition, such studies may also shed light on the evolutionary pressures that gave rise to and serve to maintain small families of genes encoding very similar proteins.

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