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Evol Dev. 2008 Nov-Dec;10(6):683-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-142X.2008.00281.x.

Abundant genetic variation in transcript level during early Drosophila development.

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Department of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Variation in gene expression may underlie many important evolutionary traits. However, it is not known at what stage in organismal development changes in gene expression are most likely to result in changes in phenotype. One widely held belief is that changes in early development are more likely to result in changes in downstream phenotypes. In order to discover how much genetic variation for transcript level is present in natural populations, we studied zygotic gene expression in nine inbred lines of Drosophila melanogaster at two time points in their development. We find abundant variation for transcript level both between lines and over time; close to half of all expressed genes show a significant line effect at either time point. We examine the contribution of maternally loaded genes to this variation, as well as the contribution of variation in upstream genes to variation in their downstream targets in two well-studied gene regulatory networks. Finally, we estimate the dimensionality of gene expression in these two networks and find that-despite large numbers of varying genes-there appear to be only two factors controlling this variation.

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