We analyze the relation between maternal gradients and segmentation in Drosophila, by quantifying spatial precision in protein patterns. Segmentation is first seen in the striped expression patterns of the pair-rule genes, such as even-skipped (eve). We compare positional precision between Eve and the maternal gradients of Bicoid (Bcd) and Caudal (Cad) proteins, showing that Eve position could be initially specified by the maternal protein concentrations but that these do not have the precision to specify the mature striped pattern of Eve. By using spatial trends, we avoid possible complications in measuring single boundary precision (e.g., gap gene patterns) and can follow how precision changes in time. During nuclear cleavage cycles 13 and 14, we find that Eve becomes increasingly correlated with egg length, whereas Bcd does not. This finding suggests that the change in precision is part of a separation of segmentation from an absolute spatial measure, established by the maternal gradients, to one precise in relative (percent egg length) units.
(c) 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.