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Evolutionary changes in the expression pattern of a developmentally essential gene in three Drosophila species.


The hypothesis that morphological evolution may largely result from changes in gene regulation rather than gene structure has been difficult to test. Morphological differences among insects are often apparent in the cuticle structures produced. The dopa decarboxylase (Ddc) and alpha-methyldopa hypersensitive (amd) genes arose from an ancient gene duplication. In Drosophila, they have evolved nonoverlapping functions, including the production of distinct types of cuticle, and for Ddc, the production of the neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. The amd gene is particularly active in the production of specialized flexible cuticles in the developing embryo. We have compared the pattern of amd expression in three Drosophila species. Several regions of expression conserved in all three species but, surprisingly, a unique domain of expression is found in Drosophila simulans that does occur in the closely related (2-5 million years) Drosophila melanogaster or in the more remote (40-50 million years) Drosophila virilis. The "sudden" appearance of a completely new and robust domain of expression provides a glimpse of evolutionary variation resulting from changes in regulation of structural gene expression.

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