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Regulatory evolution of shavenbaby/ovo underlies multiple cases of morphological parallelism


Cases of convergent evolution that involve changes in the same developmental pathway, called parallelism, provide evidence that a limited number of developmental changes are available to evolve a particular phenotype1. To our knowledge, in no case are the genetic changes underlying morphological convergence understood. However, morphological convergence is not generally assumed to imply developmental parallelism2. Here we investigate a case of convergence of larval morphology in insects and show that the loss of particular trichomes, observed in one species of the Drosophila melanogaster species group, has independently evolved multiple times in the distantly related D. virilis species group3. We present genetic and gene expression data showing that regulatory changes of the shavenbaby/ovo (svb/ovo) gene underlie all independent cases of this morphological convergence. Our results indicate that some developmental regulators might preferentially accumulate evolutionary changes and that morphological parallelism might therefore be more common than previously appreciated.

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Figure 1: The pattern of dorsal trichomes has evolved repeatedly in the D. virilis species group.
Figure 2: Dorsal first-abdominal segments of parental and species-hybrid larvae.
Figure 3: The expression pattern of svb is strictly correlated with the pattern of fine trichomes across the D. virilis group of species.
Figure 4: In Drosophila borealis western, which has an intermediate dorsal pattern of fine trichomes and naked cuticle, the expression of svb (lower panel) is strictly correlated with the pattern of trichomes (upper panel) along the anterior–posterior axis.


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We thank C. Braendle, M. Grbic, A. McGregor, H. Teotonio, L. Waltzer and members of the F.P. lab for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by a grant from Association pour la Recherche sur le Cancer (ARC) to F.P., fellowships from Ministère de la Jeunesse, de l'Éducation Nationale et de la Recherche and ARC to I.D., and a BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellowship and NIH Grant to D.L.S.

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Correspondence to David L. Stern.

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Supplementary Figure: Examples of the dorsal third abdominal segment from four individuals of each species, illustrating the relative absence of variation in trichome patterns within strains. Although we have not performed an extensive population sampling of these species, we have examined several geographic isolates of most species and have not yet found any evidence for intraspecific polymorphisms. (PDF 381 kb)

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Sucena, E., Delon, I., Jones, I. et al. Regulatory evolution of shavenbaby/ovo underlies multiple cases of morphological parallelism. Nature 424, 935–938 (2003).

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