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Out of Africa -- how the fruit fly made its way in the world
Date:4/27/2011

Fruit flies that moved from sub-Saharan Africa found themselves confronted by conditions very different from those to which they were accustomed. Most obviously, the average temperatures were considerably lower and so it is no surprise that the flies had to adapt to cope with life in the north. As a result of thousands of years of evolution, populations in sub-Saharan African and in Europe now differ dramatically in a number of characteristics known to relate to temperature (such as pigmentation, size and resistance to cold). Schltterer's previous work had suggested that a single gene, interestingly known as cramped (crm), might be involved in helping the flies survive in a colder environment but conclusive proof was lacking.

The crm protein is a transcription factor, so Jean-Michel Gibert in Schltterer's laboratory decided to investigate what genes it could regulate, continuing to work on the project following his move to the University of Geneva. Gibert and Schltterer focused in particular on genes known to be involved in wing development, such as the so-called cubitus interruptus (ci) gene, the regulation of which is known to depend on temperature. Satisfyingly, they were able to show that crm is absolutely required for the inactivation of the ci gene.

The scientists reasoned that if the crm protein is important in the response to temperature it should be possible to show that the variants or alleles of the crm gene found in Europe function differently from the alleles found in flies in sub-Saharan Africa. To "amplify" any differences in properties, they employed a sophisticated genetic trick, removing the effects of other sites in the fly's genome. In the presence of different crm alleles they examined the effects of temperature changes on the expression of the ci gene as well as on such characteristics as abdominal pigmentation in females and sex combs in males, traits known to be influenced by temperature. The results were stri
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Contact: Christian Schloetterer
christian.schloetterer@vetmeduni.ac.at
43-125-077-4300
University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna
Source:Eurekalert

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