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Many a mickle makes a muckle: How changes in animals' size and shape arise
Date:6/30/2011

The transcription of genes is tightly controlled, with a bewildering array of regulatory DNA sequences interacting with a similarly large number of proteins and other factors to determine which genes are active when and where. Understanding how it all works has challenged countless molecular biologists over the past decades but we are now starting to make significant progress. Even so, we have scarcely begun to understand how the entire complexity evolves to give differences in the size and shape of organisms. Exciting new findings are now reported by the group of David Stern at Princeton University, in collaboration with Alistair McGregor of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna and with Franois Payre of the Universit de Toulouse.

Stern's group is investigating the evolution of morphology in fruit flies. The larvae of two closely related flies, the widespread Drosophila melanogaster (which appear as if by magic around our fruit bowls in summer) and the more local Drosophila sechellia (which is found only on the Seychelles), differ in their patterns of hairs or "trichomes". The difference stems from changes in the expression of the wonderfully named "shaven baby" (svb) gene: svb is not expressed in certain types of cells in Drosophila sechellia and as a result their larvae lack lawns of hairs on the tops and sides of their backs.

Previous work in Stern's group had determined that differences in the DNA sequence of the svb regulatory region caused the difference between the hairy and naked species. McGregor found that particular regions of the so-called enhancer E were responsible for controlling expression of the svb gene on the top and sides of fly larvae. The sequence of E6, the part of the enhancer that activates the gene, is subtly different in Drosophila sechellia compared with other related species and two post-docs in Stern's lab, Nicols Frankel and Deniz F. Erezyilmaz, have now systematically
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Contact: Dr. Alastair McGregor
amcgregor@brookes.ac.uk
44-784-037-2939
University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna
Source:Eurekalert

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