Drosophila has helped us understand the genetic mechanisms of pattern formation. Particularly useful have been those organs in which different cell identities and polarities are displayed cell by cell in the cuticle and epidermis (Lawrence, 1992; Bejsovec and Wieschaus, 1993; Freeman, 1997). Here we use the pattern of larval denticles and muscle attachments and ask how this pattern is maintained and renewed over the larval moult cycles. During larval growth each epidermal cell increases manyfold in size but neither divides nor dies. We follow individuals from moult to moult, tracking marked cells and find that, as cells are repositioned and alter their neighbours, their identities change to compensate and the pattern is conserved. Single cells adopting a new fate may even acquire a new polarity: an identified cell that makes a forward-pointing denticle in the first larval stage may make a backward-pointing denticle in the second and third larval stages. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01569.001.
Keywords: Drosophila; convergent extension; denticles; pattern; planar cell polarity.