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5 Janelia Publications

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    10/15/19 | The yellow gene influences Drosophila male mating success through sex comb melanization.
    Massey JH, Chung D, Siwanowicz I, Stern DL, Wittkopp PJ
    eLife. 2019 Oct 15;8:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.49388

    males perform a series of courtship behaviors that, when successful, result in copulation with a female. For over a century, mutations in the gene, named for its effects on pigmentation, have been known to reduce male mating success. Prior work has suggested that influences mating behavior through effects on wing extension, song, and/or courtship vigor. Here, we rule out these explanations, as well as effects on the nervous system more generally, and find instead that the effects of on male mating success are mediated by its effects on pigmentation of male-specific leg structures called sex combs. Loss of expression in these modified bristles reduces their melanization, which changes their structure and causes difficulty grasping females prior to copulation. These data illustrate why the mechanical properties of anatomy, not just neural circuitry, must be considered to fully understand the development and evolution of behavior.

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    07/08/19 | Changes throughout a genetic network mask the contribution of Hox gene evolution.
    Liu Y, Ramos-Womack M, Han C, Reilly P, Brackett KL, Rogers W, Williams TM, Andolfatto P, Stern DL, Rebeiz M
    Current Biology. 2019 Jul 08;29(13):2157-66. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.05.074

    Hox genes pattern the anterior-posterior axis of animals and are posited to drive animal body plan evolution, yet their precise role in evolution has been difficult to determine. Here, we identified evolutionary modifications in the Hox gene Abd-Bthat dramatically altered its expression along the body plan of Drosophila santomeaAbd-B is required for pigmentation in Drosophila yakuba, the sister species of D. santomea, and changes to Abd-B expression would be predicted to make large contributions to the loss of body pigmentation in D. santomea. However, manipulating Abd-B expression in current-day D. santomea does not affect pigmentation. We attribute this epistatic interaction to four other genes within the D. santomea pigmentation network, three of which have evolved expression patterns that do not respond to Abd-B. Our results demonstrate how body plans may evolve through small evolutionary steps distributed throughout Hox-regulated networks. Polygenicity and epistasis may hinder efforts to identify genes and mechanisms underlying macroevolutionary traits.

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    05/28/19 | Evolution of Mechanisms that Control Mating in Drosophila Males.
    Ahmed OM, Avila-Herrera A, Tun KM, Serpa PH, Peng J, Parthasarathy S, Knapp J, Stern DL, Davis GW, Pollard KS, Shah NM
    Cell Reports. 2019 May 28;27(9):2527-2536.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.04.104

    Genetically wired neural mechanisms inhibit mating between species because even naive animals rarely mate with other species. These mechanisms can evolve through changes in expression or function of key genes in sensory pathways or central circuits. Gr32a is a gustatory chemoreceptor that, in D. melanogaster, is essential to inhibit interspecies courtship and sense quinine. Similar to D. melanogaster, we find that D. simulans Gr32a is expressed in foreleg tarsi, sensorimotor appendages that inhibit interspecies courtship, and it is required to sense quinine. Nevertheless, Gr32a is not required to inhibit interspecies mating by D. simulans males. However, and similar to its function in D. melanogaster, Ppk25, a member of the Pickpocket family, promotes conspecific courtship in D. simulans. Together, we have identified distinct evolutionary mechanisms underlying chemosensory control of taste and courtship in closely related Drosophila species.

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    05/01/19 | Pleiotropic effects of ebony and tan on pigmentation and cuticular hydrocarbon composition in Drosophila melanogaster.
    Massey JH, Akiyama N, Bien T, Dreisewerd K, Wittkopp PJ, Yew JY, Takahashi A
    Frontiers in Physiology. 05/2019;10:518. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00518

    Pleiotropic genes are genes that affect more than one trait. For example, many genes required for pigmentation in the fruit fly also affect traits such as circadian rhythms, vision, and mating behavior. Here, we present evidence that two pigmentation genes, and , which encode enzymes catalyzing reciprocal reactions in the melanin biosynthesis pathway, also affect cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) composition in females. More specifically, we report that loss-of-function mutants have a CHC profile that is biased toward long (>25C) chain CHCs, whereas loss-of-function mutants have a CHC profile that is biased toward short (<25C) chain CHCs. Moreover, pharmacological inhibition of dopamine synthesis, a key step in the melanin synthesis pathway, reversed the changes in CHC composition seen in mutants, making the CHC profiles similar to those seen in mutants. These observations suggest that genetic variation affecting and/or activity might cause correlated changes in pigmentation and CHC composition in natural populations. We tested this possibility using the Genetic Reference Panel (DGRP) and found that CHC composition covaried with pigmentation as well as levels of and expression in newly eclosed adults in a manner consistent with the and mutant phenotypes. These data suggest that the pleiotropic effects of and might contribute to covariation of pigmentation and CHC profiles in .

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    03/08/19 | Neural evolution of context-dependent fly song.
    Ding Y, Lillvis JL, Cande J, Berman GJ, Arthur BJ, Long X, Xu M, Dickson BJ, Stern DL
    Current Biology : CB. 2019 Mar 08;29(7):1089-99. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.02.019

    It is unclear where in the nervous system evolutionary changes tend to occur. To localize the source of neural evolution that has generated divergent behaviors, we developed a new approach to label and functionally manipulate homologous neurons across Drosophila species. We examined homologous descending neurons that drive courtship song in two species that sing divergent song types and localized relevant evolutionary changes in circuit function downstream of the intrinsic physiology of these descending neurons. This evolutionary change causes different species to produce divergent motor patterns in similar social contexts. Artificial stimulation of these descending neurons drives multiple song types, suggesting that multifunctional properties of song circuits may facilitate rapid evolution of song types.

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