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Genetics. 2003 Feb;163(2):771-87.

Quantitative trait loci responsible for variation in sexually dimorphic traits in Drosophila melanogaster.

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


To understand the mechanisms of morphological evolution and species divergence, it is essential to elucidate the genetic basis of variation in natural populations. Sexually dimorphic characters, which evolve rapidly both within and among species, present attractive models for addressing these questions. In this report, we map quantitative trait loci (QTL) responsible for variation in sexually dimorphic traits (abdominal pigmentation and the number of ventral abdominal bristles and sex comb teeth) in a natural population of Drosophila melanogaster. To capture the pattern of genetic variation present in the wild, a panel of recombinant inbred lines was created from two heterozygous flies taken directly from nature. High-resolution mapping was made possible by cytological markers at the average density of one per 2 cM. We have used a new Bayesian algorithm that allows QTL mapping based on all markers simultaneously. With this approach, we were able to detect small-effect QTL that were not evident in single-marker analyses. Our results show that at least for some sexually dimorphic traits, a small number of QTL account for the majority of genetic variation. The three strongest QTL account for >60% of variation in the number of ventral abdominal bristles. Strikingly, a single QTL accounts for almost 60% of variation in female abdominal pigmentation. This QTL maps to the chromosomal region that Robertson et al. have found to affect female abdominal pigmentation in other populations of D. melanogaster. Using quantitative complementation tests, we demonstrate that this QTL is allelic to the bric a brac gene, whose expression has previously been shown to correlate with interspecific differences in pigmentation. Multiple bab alleles that confer distinct phenotypes appear to segregate in natural populations at appreciable frequencies, suggesting that intraspecific and interspecific variation in abdominal pigmentation may share a similar genetic basis.

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