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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Sep 17;116(38):19025-19030. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1909829116. Epub 2019 Sep 4.

tartan underlies the evolution of Drosophila male genital morphology.

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Department of Biological and Medical Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, OX3 0BP Oxford, United Kingdom.
Department of Biological and Medical Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, OX3 0BP Oxford, United Kingdom;
Centre for Functional Genomics, Oxford Brookes University, OX3 0BP Oxford, United Kingdom.


Male genital structures are among the most rapidly evolving morphological traits and are often the only features that can distinguish closely related species. This process is thought to be driven by sexual selection and may reinforce species separation. However, while the genetic bases of many phenotypic differences have been identified, we still lack knowledge about the genes underlying evolutionary differences in male genital organs and organ size more generally. The claspers (surstyli) are periphallic structures that play an important role in copulation in insects. Here, we show that divergence in clasper size and bristle number between Drosophila mauritiana and Drosophila simulans is caused by evolutionary changes in tartan (trn), which encodes a transmembrane leucine-rich repeat domain protein that mediates cell-cell interactions and affinity. There are no fixed amino acid differences in trn between D. mauritiana and D. simulans, but differences in the expression of this gene in developing genitalia suggest that cis-regulatory changes in trn underlie the evolution of clasper morphology in these species. Finally, analyses of reciprocal hemizygotes that are genetically identical, except for the species from which the functional allele of trn originates, determined that the trn allele of D. mauritiana specifies larger claspers with more bristles than the allele of D. simulans Therefore, we have identified a gene underlying evolutionary change in the size of a male genital organ, which will help to better understand not only the rapid diversification of these structures, but also the regulation and evolution of organ size more broadly.


Drosophila; development; evolution; genetics; genitalia

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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