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Rapid restructuring of bicoid-dependent hunchback promoters within and between Dipteran species: implications for molecular coevolution

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*Author for correspondence (email: apm18@le.ac.uk)

Abstract

SUMMARY Interacting genetic elements need to coevolve if their joint function is to be maintained; for example, the correct binding of transcriptional regulators to defined binding sites in gene promoters needs to be maintained during evolution to ensure proper function. As part of a wider investigation into the molecular coevolution of the Dipteran homeodomain-bearing regulator bicoid (bcd) and Bcd-dependent promoters, we present data on the functional, structural, and sequence differences between the promoters of the segmentation gene hunchback (hb), in several species of Cyclorrhaphan (higher) Diptera. The result of phenocopying hb mutations using RNA interference (RNAi) in Musca domestica shows broadly similar functions to the hb gene in Drosophila melanogaster. However, the Bcd-binding sites in the hb promoters of Drosophila, Musca, and the two blowfly species Lucilia sericata and Calliphora vicina differ in copy number, sequence, orientation, and spacing. Furthermore, all promoters are subject to rapid turnover by slippage-like processes leading to high densities of short repetitive motifs. A study of polymorphism among six strains of M. domestica reveals that turnover by slippage also occurs in the promoter, untranslated leader, and exonic coding sequences of hb, but to different extents. We discuss these results in terms of the known interspecific differences in bcd and the potential coevolution of selected compensatory mutations in trans and cis in response to continuous promoter restructuring.

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