Regulatory evolution tuning pigmentation intensity quantitatively in Drosophila

Sci Adv. 2024 Jan 26;10(4):eadl2616. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.adl2616. Epub 2024 Jan 24.


Quantitative variation in attributes such as color, texture, or stiffness dominates morphological diversification. It results from combinations of alleles at many Mendelian loci. Here, we identify an additional source of quantitative variation among species, continuous evolution in a gene regulatory region. Specifically, we examined the modulation of wing pigmentation in a group of fly species and showed that inter-species variation correlated with the quantitative expression of the pigmentation gene yellow. This variation results from an enhancer of yellow determining darkness through species-specific activity. We mapped the divergent activities between two sister species and found the changes to be broadly distributed along the enhancer. Our results demonstrate that enhancers can act as dials fueling quantitative morphological diversification by modulating trait properties.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Drosophila* / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Pigmentation* / genetics
  • Species Specificity