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Function of bicoid and hunchback homologs in the basal cyclorrhaphan fly Megaselia (Phoridae)

  • Michael Stauber
  • Heike Taubert
  • Urs Schmidt-Ott
The National Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
Sep 19, 2000
  • Biology


The Drosophila gene bicoid functions at the beginning of a gene cascade that specifies anterior structures in the embryo. Its transcripts are localized at the anterior pole of the oocyte, giving rise to a Bicoid protein gradient, which regulates the spatially restricted expression of target genes along the anterior–posterior axis of the embryo in a concentration-dependent manner. The morphogen function of Bicoid requires the coactivity of the zinc finger transcription factor Hunchback, which is expressed in a Bicoid-dependent fashion in the anterior half of the embryo. Whereas hunchback is conserved throughout insects, bicoid homologs are known only from cyclorrhaphan flies. Thus far, identification of hunchback and bicoid homologs rests only on sequence comparison. In this study, we used double-stranded RNA interference (RNAi) to address the function of bicoid and hunchback homologs in embryos of the lower cyclorrhaphan fly Megaselia abdita (Phoridae). Megaselia-hunchback RNAi causes hunchback-like phenotypes as observed in Drosophila, but Megaselia-bicoid RNAi causes phenotypes different from corresponding RNAi experiments in Drosophila and bicoid mutant embryos. Megaselia-bicoid is required not only for the head and thorax but also for the development of four abdominal segments. This difference between Megaselia and Drosophila suggests that the range of functional bicoid activity has been reduced in higher flies.

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