Expression of evolutionarily conserved eye specification genes during Drosophila embryogenesis
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Eye specification in Drosophila is thought be controlled by a set of seven nuclear factors that includes the Pax6 homolog, Eyeless. This group of genes is conserved throughout evolution and has been repeatedly recruited for eye specification. Several of these genes are expressed within the developing eyes of vertebrates and mutations in several mouse and human orthologs are the underlying causes of retinal disease syndromes. Ectopic expression in Drosophila of any one of these genes is capable of inducing retinal development, while loss-of-function mutations delete the developing eye. These nuclear factors comprise a complex regulatory network and it is thought that their combined activities are required for the formation of the eye. We examined the expression patterns of four eye specification genes, eyeless (ey), sine oculis (so), eyes absent (eya), and dachshund (dac) throughout all time points of embryogenesis and show that only eyeless is expressed within the embryonic eye anlagen. This is consistent with a recently proposed model in which the eye primordium acquires its competence to become retinal tissue over several time points of development. We also compare the expression of Ey with that of a putative antennal specifying gene Distal-less (Dll). The expression patterns described here are quite intriguing and raise the possibility that these genes have even earlier and wide ranging roles in establishing the head and visual field.
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