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PLoS One. 2006 Dec 20;1:e75.

Control of canalization and evolvability by Hsp90.

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Center for Environmental Stress and Adaptation Research, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia.


Partial reduction of Hsp90 increases expression of morphological novelty in qualitative traits of Drosophila and Arabidopsis, but the extent to which the Hsp90 chaperone also controls smaller and more likely adaptive changes in natural quantitative traits has been unclear. To determine the effect of Hsp90 on quantitative trait variability we deconstructed genetic, stochastic and environmental components of variation in Drosophila wing and bristle traits of genetically matched flies, differing only by Hsp90 loss-of-function or wild-type alleles. Unexpectedly, Hsp90 buffering was remarkably specific to certain normally invariant and highly discrete quantitative traits. Like the qualitative trait phenotypes controlled by Hsp90, highly discrete quantitative traits such as scutellor and thoracic bristle number are threshold traits. When tested across genotypes sampled from a wild population or in laboratory strains, the sensitivity of these traits to many types of variation was coordinately controlled, while continuously variable bristle types and wing size, and critically invariant left-right wing asymmetry, remained relatively unaffected. Although increased environmental variation and developmental noise would impede many types of selection response, in replicate populations in which Hsp90 was specifically impaired, heritability and 'extrinsic evolvability', the expected response to selection, were also markedly increased. However, despite the overall buffering effect of Hsp90 on variation in populations, for any particular individual or genotype in which Hsp90 was impaired, the size and direction of its effects were unpredictable. The trait and genetic-background dependence of Hsp90 effects and its remarkable bias toward invariant or canalized traits support the idea that traits evolve independent and trait-specific mechanisms of canalization and evolvability through their evolution of non-linearity and thresholds. Highly non-linear responses would buffer variation in Hsp90-dependent signaling over a wide range, while over a narrow range of signaling near trait thresholds become more variable with increasing probability of triggering all-or-none developmental responses.

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