The Genetic Basis of Pigmentation Differences Within and Between Drosophila Species

Curr Top Dev Biol. 2016;119:27-61. doi: 10.1016/bs.ctdb.2016.03.004. Epub 2016 Apr 25.


In Drosophila, as well as in many other plants and animals, pigmentation is highly variable both within and between species. This variability, combined with powerful genetic and transgenic tools as well as knowledge of how pigment patterns are formed biochemically and developmentally, has made Drosophila pigmentation a premier system for investigating the genetic and molecular mechanisms responsible for phenotypic evolution. In this chapter, we review and synthesize findings from a rapidly growing body of case studies examining the genetic basis of pigmentation differences in the abdomen, thorax, wings, and pupal cases within and between Drosophila species. A core set of genes, including genes required for pigment synthesis (eg, yellow, ebony, tan, Dat) as well as developmental regulators of these genes (eg, bab1, bab2, omb, Dll, and wg), emerge as the primary sources of this variation, with most genes having been shown to contribute to pigmentation differences both within and between species. In cases where specific genetic changes contributing to pigmentation divergence were identified in these genes, the changes were always located in noncoding sequences and affected cis-regulatory activity. We conclude this chapter by discussing these and other lessons learned from evolutionary genetic studies of Drosophila pigmentation and identify topics we think should be the focus of future work with this model system.

Keywords: Evolution; Gene expression; Melanin; bric-a-brac; cis-Regulation; ebony; tan; wingless; yellow.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / physiology
  • Animals
  • Drosophila / genetics*
  • Organ Specificity / genetics
  • Pigmentation / genetics*
  • Pupa / genetics
  • Thorax / physiology
  • Wings, Animal / physiology