Sumant Grover, Victoria Rene Spradling



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The genetic basis by which organisms adapt to an ever changing world remains a topic of great interest to the fields of evolution, development, and conservation biology. It is understood that animal genomes contain over ten thousand genes and distantly related species possess many of the same genes due to common ancestry. What is less well understood is how new traits evolve using these shared genes and whether the genetic basis for evolution favors certain genes over others. At the heart of trait development are genes that encode proteins that regulate the expression of other genes, notably transcription factors and chromatin modifying proteins. Traits can evolve through changes in the expression patterns for these genes or through changes in which target genes they regulate. However, case studies connecting gene expression changes to trait evolution remain few in number. Additionally, it is unclear whether gene expression evolution favors alterations in certain genes over others. In order to understand how a novel trait evolves and to determine whether evolution can prefer certain gene targets for modification, we are studying the convergent evolution of fruit fly pigmentation in the lineages of Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila funebris. These two species can be considered biological replicates for the evolution of male-specific pigmentation on the A5 and A6 abdominal segments. To understand the genes involved in the formation and evolution of these similar pigmentation patterns, we are utilizing candidate gene and comparative transcriptomic approaches. Completion of this work will provide novel insights on the genetic changes responsible for a trait’s origin, and whether development constrains evolutionary paths to certain genes.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Independent Research - Graduate

Primary Advisor

Thomas M. Williams

Primary Advisor's Department



Stander Symposium project

Resolving the Gene Expression bases for the Convergent Evolution of a Pigmentation Trait