• We are sorry, but NCBI web applications do not support your browser and may not function properly. More information
Logo of transbhomepageaboutsubmitalertseditorial board
Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. Feb 28, 1998; 353(1366): 231–240.
PMCID: PMC1692214

From genes to individuals: developmental genes and the generation of the phenotype.


The success of the genetic approach to developmental biology has provided us with a suite of genes that are involved in the regulation of ontogenetic pathways. It is therefore time to ask whether and how such genes might be involved in the generation of adaptive phenotypes. Unfortunately, the current results do not provide a clear answer. Most of the genes that have been studied by developmental biologists affect early embryonic traits with significant effects on the whole organism. These genes are often highly conserved which allows us to do comparative studies even across phyla. However, whether the same genes are also involved in short-term ecological adaptations remains unclear. The suggestion that early acting ontogenetic genes may also affect late phenotypes comes from the genetic analysis of quantitative traits like bristle numbers in Drosophila. A rough mapping of the major loci affecting these traits shows that these loci might correspond to well known early acting genes. On the other hand, there are also many minor effect loci that are as yet uncharacterized. We suggest that these minor loci might correspond to a different class of genes. In comparative studies of randomly drawn cDNAs from Drosophila we find that there is a large group of genes that evolve fast and that are significantly under-represented in normal genetic screens. We speculate that these genes might provide a large, as yet poorly understood, reservoir of genes that might be involved in the evolution of quantitative traits and short-term adaptations.

Full Text

The Full Text of this article is available as a PDF (235K).

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Arendt D, Nübler-Jung K. Dorsal or ventral: similarities in fate maps and gastrulation patterns in annelids, arthropods and chordates. Mech Dev. 1997 Jan;61(1-2):7–21. [PubMed]
  • Bally-Cuif L, Boncinelli E. Transcription factors and head formation in vertebrates. Bioessays. 1997 Feb;19(2):127–135. [PubMed]
  • Barton NH, Turelli M. Evolutionary quantitative genetics: how little do we know? Annu Rev Genet. 1989;23:337–370. [PubMed]
  • Carroll SB, Gates J, Keys DN, Paddock SW, Panganiban GE, Selegue JE, Williams JA. Pattern formation and eyespot determination in butterfly wings. Science. 1994 Jul 1;265(5168):109–114. [PubMed]
  • Doebley J, Stec A, Gustus C. teosinte branched1 and the origin of maize: evidence for epistasis and the evolution of dominance. Genetics. 1995 Sep;141(1):333–346. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Doebley J, Stec A, Hubbard L. The evolution of apical dominance in maize. Nature. 1997 Apr 3;386(6624):485–488. [PubMed]
  • Dorit RL, Schoenbach L, Gilbert W. How big is the universe of exons? Science. 1990 Dec 7;250(4986):1377–1382. [PubMed]
  • Duboule D. Temporal colinearity and the phylotypic progression: a basis for the stability of a vertebrate Bauplan and the evolution of morphologies through heterochrony. Dev Suppl. 1994:135–142. [PubMed]
  • Dujon B. The yeast genome project: what did we learn? Trends Genet. 1996 Jul;12(7):263–270. [PubMed]
  • Eyal-Giladi H. Establishment of the axis in chordates: facts and speculations. Development. 1997 Jun;124(12):2285–2296. [PubMed]
  • Ferguson EL. Conservation of dorsal-ventral patterning in arthropods and chordates. Curr Opin Genet Dev. 1996 Aug;6(4):424–431. [PubMed]
  • Fitch DH. Evolution of male tail development in rhabditid nematodes related to Caenorhabditis elegans. Syst Biol. 1997 Mar;46(1):145–179. [PubMed]
  • García-Bellido A. Genetic control of wing disc development in Drosophila. Ciba Found Symp. 1975;0(29):161–182. [PubMed]
  • Gibson G, Hogness DS. Effect of polymorphism in the Drosophila regulatory gene Ultrabithorax on homeotic stability. Science. 1996 Jan 12;271(5246):200–203. [PubMed]
  • Goffeau A. Yeast. Genes in search of functions. Nature. 1994 May 12;369(6476):101–102. [PubMed]
  • Granato M, Nüsslein-Volhard C. Fishing for genes controlling development. Curr Opin Genet Dev. 1996 Aug;6(4):461–468. [PubMed]
  • Grünert S, St Johnston D. RNA localization and the development of asymmetry during Drosophila oogenesis. Curr Opin Genet Dev. 1996 Aug;6(4):395–402. [PubMed]
  • Holland LZ, Kene M, Williams NA, Holland ND. Sequence and embryonic expression of the amphioxus engrailed gene (AmphiEn): the metameric pattern of transcription resembles that of its segment-polarity homolog in Drosophila. Development. 1997 May;124(9):1723–1732. [PubMed]
  • Lecuit T, Cohen SM. Proximal-distal axis formation in the Drosophila leg. Nature. 1997 Jul 10;388(6638):139–145. [PubMed]
  • Schilirò G. Sicily: the world reservoir for thalassemias and haemoglobinopathies. Nature. 1978 Dec 21;276(5690):761–761. [PubMed]
  • Liu J, Mercer JM, Stam LF, Gibson GC, Zeng ZB, Laurie CC. Genetic analysis of a morphological shape difference in the male genitalia of Drosophila simulans and D. mauritiana. Genetics. 1996 Apr;142(4):1129–1145. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Long AD, Mullaney SL, Reid LA, Fry JD, Langley CH, Mackay TF. High resolution mapping of genetic factors affecting abdominal bristle number in Drosophila melanogaster. Genetics. 1995 Mar;139(3):1273–1291. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Mackay TF. The nature of quantitative genetic variation revisited: lessons from Drosophila bristles. Bioessays. 1996 Feb;18(2):113–121. [PubMed]
  • McDonald JH, Kreitman M. Adaptive protein evolution at the Adh locus in Drosophila. Nature. 1991 Jun 20;351(6328):652–654. [PubMed]
  • McGinnis W, Krumlauf R. Homeobox genes and axial patterning. Cell. 1992 Jan 24;68(2):283–302. [PubMed]
  • Müller M, v Weizsäcker E, Campos-Ortega JA. Expression domains of a zebrafish homologue of the Drosophila pair-rule gene hairy correspond to primordia of alternating somites. Development. 1996 Jul;122(7):2071–2078. [PubMed]
  • Nowak MA, Boerlijst MC, Cooke J, Smith JM. Evolution of genetic redundancy. Nature. 1997 Jul 10;388(6638):167–171. [PubMed]
  • Nusse R. A versatile transcriptional effector of Wingless signaling. Cell. 1997 May 2;89(3):321–323. [PubMed]
  • Nüsslein-Volhard C, Wieschaus E. Mutations affecting segment number and polarity in Drosophila. Nature. 1980 Oct 30;287(5785):795–801. [PubMed]
  • Orengo CA, Jones DT, Thornton JM. Protein superfamilies and domain superfolds. Nature. 1994 Dec 15;372(6507):631–634. [PubMed]
  • O'Neil MT, Belote JM. Interspecific comparison of the transformer gene of Drosophila reveals an unusually high degree of evolutionary divergence. Genetics. 1992 May;131(1):113–128. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Panganiban G, Irvine SM, Lowe C, Roehl H, Corley LS, Sherbon B, Grenier JK, Fallon JF, Kimble J, Walker M, et al. The origin and evolution of animal appendages. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 May 13;94(10):5162–5166. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Reuter D, Schuh R, Jäckle H. The homeotic gene spalt (sal) evolved during Drosophila speciation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1989 Jul;86(14):5483–5486. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Reuter D, Kühnlein RP, Frommer G, Barrio R, Kafatos FC, Jäckle H, Schuh R. Regulation, function and potential origin of the Drosophila gene spalt adjacent, which encodes a secreted protein expressed in the early embryo. Chromosoma. 1996 Mar;104(6):445–454. [PubMed]
  • Schlötterer C, Vogl C, Tautz D. Polymorphism and locus-specific effects on polymorphism at microsatellite loci in natural Drosophila melanogaster populations. Genetics. 1997 May;146(1):309–320. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Schmid KJ, Tautz D. A screen for fast evolving genes from Drosophila. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Sep 2;94(18):9746–9750. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Slack JM, Holland PW, Graham CF. The zootype and the phylotypic stage. Nature. 1993 Feb 11;361(6412):490–492. [PubMed]
  • St Johnston D, Nüsslein-Volhard C. The origin of pattern and polarity in the Drosophila embryo. Cell. 1992 Jan 24;68(2):201–219. [PubMed]
  • Tautz D. Redundancies, development and the flow of information. Bioessays. 1992 Apr;14(4):263–266. [PubMed]
  • Tautz D, Sommer RJ. Evolution of segmentation genes in insects. Trends Genet. 1995 Jan;11(1):23–27. [PubMed]
  • Taylor MF, Shen Y, Kreitman ME. A population genetic test of selection at the molecular level. Science. 1995 Dec 1;270(5241):1497–1499. [PubMed]
  • Thackeray JR, Kyriacou CP. Molecular evolution in the Drosophila yakuba period locus. J Mol Evol. 1990 Nov;31(5):389–401. [PubMed]
  • Theissen G, Saedler H. MADS-box genes in plant ontogeny and phylogeny: Haeckel's 'biogenetic law' revisited. Curr Opin Genet Dev. 1995 Oct;5(5):628–639. [PubMed]
  • Tsaur SC, Wu CI. Positive selection and the molecular evolution of a gene of male reproduction, Acp26Aa of Drosophila. Mol Biol Evol. 1997 May;14(5):544–549. [PubMed]
  • Wilson R, Ainscough R, Anderson K, Baynes C, Berks M, Bonfield J, Burton J, Connell M, Copsey T, Cooper J, et al. 2.2 Mb of contiguous nucleotide sequence from chromosome III of C. elegans. Nature. 1994 Mar 3;368(6466):32–38. [PubMed]

Articles from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences are provided here courtesy of The Royal Society


Related citations in PubMed

See reviews...See all...

Cited by other articles in PMC

See all...


Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...