A Novel Role for Trithorax in the Gene Regulatory Network for a Rapidly Evolving Fruit Fly Pigmentation Trait

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Biology


Department of Biology


Thomas Williams


Animal traits develop through the expression and action of numerous regulatory and realizator genes that comprise a gene regulatory network (GRN). For each GRN, its underlying patterns of gene expression are controlled by cis-regulatory elements (CREs) that bind activating and repressing transcription factors. These interactions drive cell-type and developmental stage-specific transcriptional activation or repression. Most GRNs remain incompletely mapped, and a major barrier to this daunting task is CRE identification. Here, we used an in silico method to identify predicted CREs (pCREs) that comprise the GRN which governs sex-specific pigmentation of Drosophila melanogaster. Through in vivo assays, we demonstrate that many pCREs activate expression in the correct cell-type and developmental stage. We employed genome editing to demonstrate that two CREs control the pupal abdomen expression of trithorax, whose function is required for the dimorphic phenotype. Surprisingly, trithorax has no effect on this GRN's key trans-regulators but shapes the sex-specific expression of two realizator genes. Comparison of sequences orthologous to these CREs supports an evolutionary scenario where these trithorax CREs predated the origin of the dimorphic trait. Collectively, this study demonstrates how in silico approaches can shed novel insights on the GRN basis for a trait's development and evolution.


Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Gene regulatory network, Cis-regulatory elements, Evolution, Development, Drosophila genetics, Drosophila pigmentation

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Copyright © 2023, author