Annotating ebony on the fly



    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Biotechnology & Bioengineering, Rice University, MS 170, 205 A Anderson Biology Laboratory, 6100 Main Street, Houston, Texas 77005, USA,
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    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan, 1061 Natural Science Building, 830 North University Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1048, USA
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Michael H. Kohn, Fax: +1 713 348 5232; E-mail:


The distinctive black phenotype of ebony mutants has made it one of the most widely used phenotypic markers in Drosophila genetics. Without doubt, ebony showcases the fruits of the fly community's labours to annotate gene function. As of this writing, FlyBase lists 142 references, 1277 fly stocks, 15 phenotypes and 44 alleles. In addition to its namesake pigmentation phenotype, ebony mutants affect other traits, including phototaxis and courtship. With phenotypic consequences of ebony variants readily apparent in the laboratory, does natural selection also see them in the wild? In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Pool & Aquadro investigate this question and found signs of natural selection on the ebony gene that appear to have resulted from selection for darker pigmentation at higher elevations in sub-Saharan populations of Drosophila melanogaster. Such findings from population genomic analysis of wild-derived strains should be included in gene annotations to provide a more holistic view of a gene's function. The evolutionary annotation of ebony added by Pool & Aquadro substantiates that pigmentation can be adaptive and implicates elevation as an important selective factor. This is important progress because the selective factors seem to differ between populations and species. In addition, the study raises issues to consider when extrapolating from selection at the molecular level to selection at the phenotypic level.