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Development. 2004 Apr;131(7):1515-27. Epub 2004 Mar 3.

hunchback is required for suppression of abdominal identity, and for proper germband growth and segmentation in the intermediate germband insect Oncopeltus fasciatus.

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Biology, Indiana University, 1001 East Third Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


Insects such as Drosophila melanogaster undergo a derived form of segmentation termed long germband segmentation. In long germband insects, all of the body regions are specified by the blastoderm stage. Thus, the entire body plan is proportionally represented on the blastoderm. This is in contrast to short and intermediate germband insects where only the most anterior body regions are specified by the blastoderm stage. Posterior segments are specified later in embryogenesis during a period of germband elongation. Although we know much about Drosophila segmentation, we still know very little about how the blastoderm of short and intermediate germband insects is allocated into only the anterior segments, and how the remaining posterior segments are produced. In order to gain insight into this type of embryogenesis, we have investigated the expression and function of the homolog of the Drosophila gap gene hunchback in an intermediate germ insect, the milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus. We find that Oncopeltus hunchback (Of'hb) is expressed in two phases, first in a gap-like domain in the blastoderm and later in the posterior growth zone during germband elongation. In order to determine the genetic function of Of'hb, we have developed a method of parental RNAi in the milkweed bug. Using this technique, we find that Oncopeltus hunchback has two roles in anterior-posterior axis specification. First, Of'hb is required to suppress abdominal identity in the gnathal and thoracic regions. Subsequently, it is then required for proper germband growth and segmentation. In milkweed bug embryos depleted for hunchback, these two effects result in animals in which a relatively normal head is followed by several segments with abdominal identity. This phenotype is reminiscent to that found in Drosophila hunchback mutants, but in Oncopeltus is generated through the combination of the two separate defects.

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