About females and males: continuity and discontinuity in flies

Bopp, Daniel

In: Journal of Genetics, 2010, vol. 89, no. 3, p. 315-323

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    Through the decades of relentless and dedicated studies in Drosophila melanogaster, the pathway that governs sexual development has been elucidated in great detail and has become a paradigm in understanding fundamental cell-fate decisions. However, recent phylogenetic studies show that the molecular strategy used in Drosophila deviates in some important aspects from those found in other dipteran flies and suggest that the Drosophila pathway is likely to be a derivative of a simpler and more common principle. In this essay, I will discuss the evolutionary plasticity of the sex-determining pathway based on studies in the common housefly, Musca domestica. Diversification appears to primarily arise from subtle differences in the regulation of the key switch gene transformer at the top of the pathway. On the basis of these findings I propose a new idea on how the Drosophila pathway may have evolved from a more archetypal system such as in M. domestica. In essence, the arrival of an X counting mechanism mediated by Sex-lethal to compensate for Xlinked gene dose differences set the stage for an intimate coupling of the two pathways. Its precedent recruitment to the dosage compensation pathway allowed for an intervention in the regulation of transformer where it gradually and eventually' completely substituted for a need of transformer autoregulation