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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Feb 18;100(4):1808-13. Epub 2003 Feb 6.

Drosophila pigmentation evolution: divergent genotypes underlying convergent phenotypes.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Wisconsin, 1525 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


Similar phenotypic changes have evolved independently in many animal taxa. It is unknown whether independent changes involve the same or different developmental and genetic mechanisms. Myriad pigment patterns in the genus Drosophila offer numerous opportunities to address this question. Previous studies identified regulatory and structural genes involved in the development and diversification of pigmentation in selected species. Here, we examine Drosophila americana and Drosophila novamexicana, interfertile species that have evolved dramatic pigmentation differences during the few million years since their divergence. Interspecific genetic analysis was used to investigate the contribution of five specific candidate genes and other genomic regions to phenotypic divergence by testing for associations between molecular markers and pigmentation. At least four distinct genomic regions contributed to pigmentation differences, one of which included the ebony gene. Ebony protein was expressed at higher levels in the more yellow D. novamexicana than the heavily melanized D. americana. Because Ebony promotes yellow pigment formation and suppresses melanization, the expression difference and genetic association suggest that evolution at the ebony locus contributed to pigmentation divergence between D. americana and D. novamexicana. Surprisingly, no genetic association with the yellow locus was detected in this study, and Yellow expression was identical in the two species. Evolution at the yellow locus underlies pigmentation divergence among other Drosophila species; thus, similar pigment patterns have evolved through regulatory changes in different genes in different lineages. These findings bear upon understanding classic models of melanism and mimicry.

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