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Fruitfly study shows how evolution wings it

In the frantic world of fruitfly courtship, the difference between attracting a mate and going home alone may depend on having the right wing spots. Now, Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have learned which elements of fly DNA make these spots come and go in different species. Their studies have also uncovered surprising new evidence supporting the idea that evolution is an incessant tinkerer when it comes to complex traits.

The experiments are among the first to root out "the deep mechanics of evolution" that underpin complex traits, according to the study's senior author Sean Carroll, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Carroll and his Wisconsin colleagues collaborated with researchers from the University of Cambridge and Stony Brook University on the studies, which were published in the April 20. 2006, issue of the journal Nature.

The researchers said their findings emphasize the evolutionary significance of "pleiotropic" genes those with multiple on-switches that enable the expression of a single gene in different tissues or at different stages of development.

"The wing spot on the fruitfly is a particularly good model because we know it constitutes a new feature that is gained or lost by evolution in different species," said Carroll. "And, since it is a spatial pattern, it gives us a chance to analyze the evolution of a physical trait. Such traits have size, shape, and length, and they are more complicated than physiological traits. For example, eye color is not a tricky thing to figure out, since it can be reduced to single genetic changes. But evolutionary biologists want to understand how even complicated bits of anatomy and machinery like the wing or the complex eye are put together in the course of evolution."

Wing spots have evolved in different fruitfly species as part of the courtship displays that males present to females during mating. Thus, they can b
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Contact: Jim Keeley
keeleyj@hhmi.org
301-215-8858
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
19-Apr-2006


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