Like butterflies, different species of fruit flies decorate their wings with a great diversity of spots and patterns. Digging deep into a single gene that produce pigmentation in the flies, a group led by UW-Madison biologist Sean Carroll has found the molecular switches that control where the pigmentation is deployed. The finding explains how common genes can be controlled to produce the seemingly endless array of patterns, decoration and body architecture found in animals. Photo: courtesy of Nicolas Gompel and Benjamin Prudhomme
Like the gaudy peacock or majestic buck, the bachelor fruit fly is in a race against time to mate and pass along its genes. And just as flashy plumage or imposing antlers work to an animal’s reproductive advantage, so, too, do the colored spots that decorate the wings of a particular male fruit fly.
To the ladies, the spots - waved frenetically by suitors in the fruit fly courtship ritual - connote sex appeal.
To a team of Wisconsin scientists, however, the origin of these decorative spots has proven to be a critical portal to unraveling a long-standing genetic mystery: What is it, exactly, that governs the development and evolution of form? Is it the genes themselves or the devices within DNA that control where genes are used in the making of the animal’s body?
Sean B. Carroll | EurekAlert!
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