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PLoS Biol. Dec 2006; 4(12): e386.
Published online Nov 14, 2006. doi:  10.1371/journal.pbio.0040386
PMCID: PMC1635746

Two or Four Bristles: Functional Evolution of an Enhancer of scute in Drosophilidae

Mohamed Noor, Academic Editor

Abstract

Changes in cis-regulatory sequences are proposed to underlie much of morphological evolution. Yet, little is known about how such modifications translate into phenotypic differences. To address this problem, we focus on the dorsocentral bristles of Drosophilidae. In Drosophila melanogaster, development of these bristles depends on a cis-regulatory element, the dorsocentral enhancer, to activate scute in a cluster of cells from which two bristles on the posterior scutum arise. A few species however, such as D. quadrilineata, bear anterior dorsocentral bristles as well as posterior ones, a derived feature. This correlates with an anterior expansion of the scute expression domain. Here, we show that the D. quadrilineata enhancer has evolved, and is now active in more anterior regions. When used to rescue scute expression in transgenic D. melanogaster, the D. quadrilineata enhancer is able to induce anterior bristles. Importantly, these properties are not displayed by homologous enhancers from control species bearing only two posterior bristles. We also provide evidence that upstream regulation of the enhancer, by the GATA transcription factor Pannier, has been evolutionarily conserved. This work illustrates how, in the context of a conserved trans-regulatory landscape, evolutionary tinkering of pre-existing enhancers can modify gene expression patterns and contribute to morphological diversification.


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