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Genetics. 1997 Nov;147(3):1155-68.

Is function of the Drosophila homeotic gene Ultrabithorax canalized?

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  • 1Department of Biology, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109-1048, USA. ggibson@umich.edu


Genetic variation affecting the expressivity of an amorphic allele of the homeotic gene Ultrabithorax, (Ubx1) was characterized after 11 generations of introgression into 29 different isofemale lines. Heterozygotes display a range of haploinsufficient phenotypes, from overlap with wild-type halteres to dramatic transformations such as a 50% increase in area and the presence of over 20 bristles on the anterior margin of each haltere. In both the wild-type and mutant genetic backgrounds, there is moderate genetic variance and low environmental variance/developmental asymmetry, as expected of a trait under stabilizing selection pressure. Surprisingly, there is little evidence that mutant halteres are more variable than wild-type ones, so it is unclear that haltere development is also canalized. The correlation between wild-type and Ubx haltere size is very low, indicating that interactions among modifiers of Ubx are complex, and in some cases sex-specific. The potential quantitative genetic contributions of homeotic genes to appendage morphology are discussed, noting that population-level effects of variation in key regulatory genes may be prevalent and complex but cannot be readily extrapolated to macroevolutionary diversification.

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