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Functional stability of the aristaless gene in appendage tip formation during evolution

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The appendages of an insect are subdivided into distinct segments or podomeres. Many genes responsible for the regionalization of the growing limb into subdomains have been isolated from Drosophila. So far, only one gene is known in the leg that is solely required for specifying the distal-most pattern element—the pretarsal claw. In Drosophila, the gene aristaless is expressed in the centre of the antennal and leg imaginal disc that represents the most distal position of appendages, and in a proximal region. When Drosophila aristaless function is impaired, antennae and legs develop without their distal-most structures—the arista and the claw. We describe here the analysis of aristaless in the beetle Tribolium—an insect that shows a different, more ancestral mode of appendage formation than Drosophila. In Tribolium, appendages grow out continuously during embryogenesis, and no imaginal discs are formed. Tribolium aristaless (Tc-al) expression starts midway during appendage elongation, and is seen in a distal and a proximal position of head and trunk appendages. At the end of embryogenesis, Tc-al is seen in four expression domains in the leg, in the dorsal epidermis, and ventrally in every segment in lateral groups of cells, presumably the histoblasts. Like in the Drosophila adult, Tc-al is required in the larva for the formation of the most distal structures of the leg and the antenna as revealed by RNAi experiments. We conclude that aristaless is evolutionarily robust, meaning that it has retained its expressional and functional characteristics, although a heterochronic change of the process of appendage elongation took place towards the evolution of the highly derived diptera.

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We thank S. Brown, R. Beeman, and O. Betz for discussions, R. Reuter for constant support, and T. Mader for excellent technical assistance. This work was funded in part by the DFG.

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Correspondence to Reinhard Schröder.

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Edited by D. Tautz

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Beermann, A., Schröder, R. Functional stability of the aristaless gene in appendage tip formation during evolution. Dev Genes Evol 214, 303–308 (2004).

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