Ultrabithorax is required for membranous wing identity in the beetle Tribolium castaneum

Nature. 2005 Feb 10;433(7026):643-7. doi: 10.1038/nature03272.


The two pairs of wings that are characteristic of ancestral pterygotes (winged insects) have often undergone evolutionary modification. In the fruitfly, Drosophila melanogaster, differences between the membranous forewings and the modified hindwings (halteres) depend on the Hox gene Ultrabithorax (Ubx). The Drosophila forewings develop without Hox input, while Ubx represses genes that are important for wing development, promoting haltere identity. However, the idea that Hox input is important to the morphologically specialized wing derivatives such as halteres, and not the more ancestral wings, requires examination in other insect orders. In beetles, such as Tribolium castaneum, it is the forewings that are modified (to form elytra), while the hindwings retain a morphologically more ancestral identity. Here we show that in this beetle Ubx 'de-specializes' the hindwings, which are transformed to elytra when the gene is knocked down. We also show evidence that elytra result from a Hox-free state, despite their diverged morphology. Ubx function in the hindwing seems necessary for a change in the expression of spalt, iroquois and achaete-scute homologues from elytron-like to more typical wing-like patterns. This counteracting effect of Ubx in beetle hindwings represents a previously unknown mode of wing diversification in insects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genes, Insect / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Insect Proteins / genetics
  • Insect Proteins / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Morphogenesis / genetics
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • RNA Interference
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Tribolium / genetics*
  • Tribolium / growth & development*
  • Wings, Animal / growth & development*
  • Wings, Animal / metabolism*


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Insect Proteins
  • Transcription Factors

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AY600513
  • GENBANK/AY600514
  • GENBANK/AY600516