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Note: Research in this publication was not performed at Janelia.
Metamorphosis is one of the most common, yet dramatic of life history strategies. In insects, complete metamorphosis with morphologically distinct larval stages arose from hemimetabolous ancestors that were more direct developing. Over the past century, several ideas have emerged that suggest the holometabolous pupa is developmentally homologous to the embryonic stages of the hemimetabolous ancestor. Other theories consider the pupal stage to be a modification of a hemimetabolous nymph. To address this question, we have isolated an ortholog of the pupal determinant, broad (br), from the hemimetabolous milkweed bug and examined its role during embryonic development. We show that Oncopeltus fasciatus br (Of’br) is expressed in two phases. The first occurs during germ band invagination and segmentation when Of’br is expressed ubiquitously in the embryonic tissues. The second phase of Of’br expression appears during the pronymphal phase of embryogenesis and persists through nymphal differentiation to decline just before hatching. Knock-down of Of’br transcripts results in defects that range from posterior truncations in the least-affected phenotypes to completely fragmented embryonic tissues in the most severe cases. Analysis of the patterning genes engrailed and hunchback reveal loss of segments and a failure in neural differentiation after Of’br depletion. Finally, we show that br is constitutively expressed during embyrogenesis of the ametabolous firebrat, Thermobia domestica. This suggests that br expression is prominent during embryonic development of ametabolous and hemimetabolous insects but was lost with the emergence of the completely metamorphosing insects.