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141 Publications

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    01/02/09 | Molecular Basis of Facultative Asexuality in Aphids
    DG Srinivasan , L Ano , GK Davis , DL Stern
    Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. 01/2009;49:E308-E308

    Phenotypic plasticity allows organisms to quickly adapt in response to changing environments. Little is known of the genetic, environmental and epigenetic contribution to the expression of alternative adaptive developmental outcomes. We study aphid polyphenisms, which offer a unique, compelling opportunity to study multiple levels of biological organization, especially insect epigenetics. The pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum, exhibits an adaptive reproductive polyphenism whereby genetically identical individuals reproduce either sexually (meiosis) or asexually (parthenogenesis) depending on environmental conditions during maternal development (short or long photoperiod, respectively). To understand how facultative asexuality evolved in aphids, we first determined meiosis gene activity in sexuals and asexuals. I determined that the pea aphid genome encodes single copies of homologs for the majority of the core meiotic machinery, suggesting that meiotic plasticity is not due simply to gene loss or expansion. Next, we determined if these core meiosis genes are expressed using PCR spanning across at least one intron from cDNA isolated from asexual and sexual ovaries. Surprisingly, meiosis specific genes (e.g., Spo11, Msh4, Msh5, Hop2 and Mnd1) are expressed in not only in asexual ovaries but also in somatic tissue and an obligately asexual aphid strain. Interestingly, the Spo11 PCR product contained intronic sequence, thus representing unspliced mRNA. Germline expression of Spo11, Mnd1 and Hop2 was confirmed by in situ analysis. Preliminary results identified candidate methylation sites in the Spo11 locus, indicating an epigenetic basis for this expression difference. Further characterization will help us better understand the molecular and epigenetic mechanisms underlying this adaptive facultative plasticity.

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    09/01/08 | The loci of evolution: how predictable is genetic evolution?
    Stern DL, Orgogozo V
    Evolution. 2008 Sep;62(9):2155-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2008.00450.x

    Is genetic evolution predictable? Evolutionary developmental biologists have argued that, at least for morphological traits, the answer is a resounding yes. Most mutations causing morphological variation are expected to reside in the cis-regulatory, rather than the coding, regions of developmental genes. This "cis-regulatory hypothesis" has recently come under attack. In this review, we first describe and critique the arguments that have been proposed in support of the cis-regulatory hypothesis. We then test the empirical support for the cis-regulatory hypothesis with a comprehensive survey of mutations responsible for phenotypic evolution in multicellular organisms. Cis-regulatory mutations currently represent approximately 22% of 331 identified genetic changes although the number of cis-regulatory changes published annually is rapidly increasing. Above the species level, cis-regulatory mutations altering morphology are more common than coding changes. Also, above the species level cis-regulatory mutations predominate for genes not involved in terminal differentiation. These patterns imply that the simple question "Do coding or cis-regulatory mutations cause more phenotypic evolution?" hides more interesting phenomena. Evolution in different kinds of populations and over different durations may result in selection of different kinds of mutations. Predicting the genetic basis of evolution requires a comprehensive synthesis of molecular developmental biology and population genetics.

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    07/15/08 | Molecular characterization of pea aphid facultative parthenogenesis
    Dayalan G. Srinivasan , Greg K. Davis , David L. Stern
    Developmental Biology. 07/2008;319(2):494-495. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2008.05.098

    Meiosis is a highly conserved process in which a diploid genome is recombined and assorted into haploid gametes. Remarkably, the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum exhibits a reproductive polyphenism whereby environmental signals trigger a switch between apomixis (parthenogenetic reproduction) and meiosis (sexual reproduction). Aphid apomixis results in daughter embryo clones with 2n genome content without male contribution or recombination. This important adaptation allows aphid populations to not only rapidly expand upon abundant resources during summer but also survive winter. How aphids have evolved this ability to switch between parthenogenesis and sexual meiosis is unknown. To arrive at a mechanistic explanation for this developmental plasticity, I determined meiosis gene activity in sexuals and asexuals. I first identified homologs of a core set of meiosis genes from the pea aphid genome. Next, I tested the expression of these core meiosis genes by PCR spanning across at least one intron from cDNA isolated from asexual and sexual ovaries. Surprisingly, meiosis specific genes (e.g., Spo11, Msh4, Msh5, Hop2 and Mnd1) are expressed in asexual ovaries. Additionally, the Spo11 PCR product contained intronic sequence, thus representing unspliced mRNA. Future experiments looking at the quantities and localizations of mRNA and protein will help to distinguish among several possible explanations for these results. Further molecular characterization of this phenotypic plasticity will be helpful in understanding how multiple interacting pathways can evolve to create alternate developmental phenotypes.

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    07/01/08 | Tinker where the tinkering's good.
    Rockman MV, Stern DL
    Trends Genet. 2008 Jul;24(7):317-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2008.04.003

    Do general principles govern the genetic causes of phenotypic evolution? One promising idea is that mutations in cis-regulatory regions play a predominant role in phenotypic evolution because they can alter gene activity without causing pleiotropic effects. Recent evidence that revealed the genetic basis of pigmentation pattern evolution in Drosophila santomea supports this notion. Multiple mutations that disrupt an abdominal enhancer of the pleiotropic gene tan partly explain the reduced pigmentation observed in this species.

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    06/24/08 | Aphids.
    Stern DL
    Curr Biol. 2008 Jun 24;18(12):R504-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.03.034

    Mammalian herbivores profoundly influence plant-dwelling insects [1]. Most studies have focused on the indirect effect of herbivory on insect populations via damage to the host plant [2,3]. Many insects, however, are in danger of being inadvertently ingested during herbivore feeding. Here, we report that pea aphids (Acyrthosiphon pisum) are able to sense the elevated heat and humidity of the breath of an approaching herbivore and thus salvage most of the colony by simultaneously dropping off the plant in large numbers immediately before the plant is eaten. Dropping entails the risk of losing the host plant and becoming desiccated or preyed upon on the ground [4,5], yet pea aphids may sporadically drop when threatened by insect enemies [6]. The immediate mass dropping, however, is an adaptation to the potential destructive impact of mammalian herbivory on the entire aphid colony. The combination of heat and humidity serves as a reliable cue to impending mammalian herbivory, enabling the aphids to avoid unnecessary dropping. No defensive behavior against incidental predation by herbivores has ever been demonstrated. The pea aphids' highly adaptive escape behavior uniquely demonstrates the strength of the selective pressure large mammalian herbivores impose on insect herbivores.

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    12/01/07 | Internal and external constraints in the evolution of morphological allometries in a butterfly.
    Frankino WA, Zwaan BJ, Stern DL, Brakefield PM
    Evolution. 2007 Dec;61(12):2958-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2007.00249.x

    Much diversity in animal morphology results from variation in the relative size of morphological traits. The scaling relationships, or allometries, that describe relative trait size can vary greatly in both intercept and slope among species or other animal groups. Yet within such groups, individuals typically exhibit low variation in relative trait size. This pattern of high intra- and low intergroup variation may result from natural selection for particular allometries, from developmental constraints restricting differential growth among traits, or both. Here we explore the relative roles of short-term developmental constraints and natural selection in the evolution of the intercept of the allometry between the forewing and hindwing of a butterfly. First, despite a strong genetic correlation between these two traits, we show that artificial selection perpendicular to the forewing-hindwing scaling relationship results in rapid evolution of the allometry intercept. This demonstrates an absence of developmental constraints limiting intercept evolution for this scaling relationship. Mating experiments in a natural environment revealed strong stabilizing selection favoring males with the wild-type allometry intercept over those with derived intercepts. Our results demonstrate that evolution of this component of the forewing-hindwing allometry is not limited by developmental constraints in the short term and that natural selection on allometry intercepts can be powerful.

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    08/15/07 | The function and regulation of Ultrabithorax in the legs of Drosophila melanogaster.
    Davis GK, Srinivasan DG, Wittkopp PJ, Stern DL
    Dev Biol. 2007 Aug 15;308(2):621-31. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2007.06.002

    Alterations in Hox gene expression patterns have been implicated in both large and small-scale morphological evolution. An improved understanding of these changes requires a detailed understanding of Hox gene cis-regulatory function and evolution. cis-regulatory evolution of the Hox gene Ultrabithorax (Ubx) has been shown to contribute to evolution of trichome patterns on the posterior second femur (T2p) of Drosophila species. As a step toward determining how this function of Ubx has evolved, we performed a series of experiments to clarify the role of Ubx in patterning femurs and to identify the cis-regulatory regions of Ubx that drive expression in T2p. We first performed clonal analysis to further define Ubx function in patterning bristle and trichome patterns in the legs. We found that low levels of Ubx expression are sufficient to repress an eighth bristle row on the posterior second and third femurs, whereas higher levels of expression are required to promote the development and migration of other bristles on the third femur and to repress trichomes. We then tested the hypothesis that the evolutionary difference in T2p trichome patterns due to Ubx was caused by a change in the global cis-regulation of Ubx expression. We found no evidence to support this view, suggesting that the evolved difference in Ubx function reflects evolution of a leg-specific enhancer. We then searched for the regulatory regions of the Ubx locus that drive expression in the second and third femur by assaying all existing regulatory mutations of the Ubx locus and new deficiencies in the large intron of Ubx that we generated by P-element-induced male recombination. We found that two enhancer regions previously known to regulate Ubx expression in the legs, abx and pbx, are required for Ubx expression in the third femur, but that they do not contribute to pupal expression of Ubx in the second femur. This analysis allowed us to rule out at least 100 kb of DNA in and around the Ubx locus as containing a T2p-specific enhancer. We then surveyed an additional approximately 30 kb using enhancer constructs. None of these enhancer constructs produced an expression pattern similar to Ubx expression in T2p. Thus, after surveying over 95% of the Ubx locus, we have not been able to localize a T2p-specific enhancer. While the enhancer could reside within the small regions we have not surveyed, it is also possible that the enhancer is structurally complex and/or acts only within its native genomic context.

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    08/10/07 | Evolution. An embarrassment of switches.
    Kruglyak L, Stern DL
    Science. 2007 Aug 10;317(5839):758-9. doi: 10.1126/science.1146921
    08/02/07 | Morphological evolution through multiple cis-regulatory mutations at a single gene.
    McGregor AP, Orgogozo V, Delon I, Zanet J, Srinivasan DG, Payre Fc, Stern DL
    Nature. 2007 Aug 2;448(7153):587-90. doi: 10.1038/nature05988

    One central, and yet unsolved, question in evolutionary biology is the relationship between the genetic variants segregating within species and the causes of morphological differences between species. The classic neo-darwinian view postulates that species differences result from the accumulation of small-effect changes at multiple loci. However, many examples support the possible role of larger abrupt changes in the expression of developmental genes in morphological evolution. Although this evidence might be considered a challenge to a neo-darwinian micromutationist view of evolution, there are currently few examples of the actual genes causing morphological differences between species. Here we examine the genetic basis of a trichome pattern difference between Drosophila species, previously shown to result from the evolution of a single gene, shavenbaby (svb), probably through cis-regulatory changes. We first identified three distinct svb enhancers from D. melanogaster driving reporter gene expression in partly overlapping patterns that together recapitulate endogenous svb expression. All three homologous enhancers from D. sechellia drive expression in modified patterns, in a direction consistent with the evolved svb expression pattern. To test the influence of these enhancers on the actual phenotypic difference, we conducted interspecific genetic mapping at a resolution sufficient to recover multiple intragenic recombinants. This functional analysis revealed that independent genetic regions upstream of svb that overlap the three identified enhancers are collectively required to generate the D. sechellia trichome pattern. Our results demonstrate that the accumulation of multiple small-effect changes at a single locus underlies the evolution of a morphological difference between species. These data support the view that alleles of large effect that distinguish species may sometimes reflect the accumulation of multiple mutations of small effect at select genes.

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    07/01/07 | Common genome-wide patterns of transcript accumulation underlying the wing polyphenism and polymorphism in the pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum).
    Brisson JA, Davis GK, Stern DL
    Evol Dev. 2007 Jul-Aug;9(4):338-46. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-142X.2007.00170.x

    The pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum, exhibits several environmentally cued polyphenisms, in which discrete, alternative phenotypes are produced. At low-density, parthenogenetic females produce unwinged female progeny, but at high-density females produce progeny that develop with wings. These alternative phenotypes represent a solution to the competing demands of dispersal and reproduction. Males also develop as either winged or unwinged, but these alternatives are determined by a genetic polymorphism. Winged and unwinged males are morphologically less distinct from each other than winged and unwinged females, possibly because males experience fewer trade-offs between dispersal and reproduction. To assess whether shared physiological differences mirror the shared morphological differences that characterize the wing polyphenism and polymorphism, we used a cDNA microarray representing an estimated 10% of the coding genome (1734 genes) to examine differential transcript accumulation between winged and unwinged females and males. We identified several transcripts that differentially accumulate between winged and unwinged morphs in both sexes, the majority of which are involved in energy production. Unexpectedly, the extent of differential transcript accumulation between winged and unwinged morphs was greater for adult males than for adult females. Together, these results suggest not only that similar physiological differences underlie the polyphenism and polymorphism, but that male morphs, like females, are subject to trade-offs between reproduction and dispersal that are reflected in levels of transcript accumulation and possibly genome-wide patterns of gene regulation. These data also provide a baseline for future studies of the molecular and physiological basis of life-history trade-offs.

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