Asymmetric flies: The control of developmental noise in Drosophila

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Abstract

What are the sources of phenotypic variation and which factors shape this variation are fundamental questions of developmental and evolutionary biology. Despite this simple formulation and intense research, controversy remains. Three points are particularly discussed: (1) whether adaptive developmental mechanisms buffering variation exist at all; (2) if yes, do they involve specific genes and processes, i.e., different from those involved in the development of the traits that are buffered?; and (3) whether different mechanisms specifically buffer the various sources of variation, i.e., genetic, environmental and stochastic, or whether a generalist process buffers them all at once. We advocate that experimental work integrating different levels of analysis will improve our understanding of the origin of phenotypic variation and thus help answering these contentious questions. In this paper, we first survey the current views on these issues, highlighting potential sources of controversy. We then focus on the stochastic part of phenotypic variation, as measured by fluctuating asymmetry, and on current knowledge about the genetic basis of developmental stability. We report our recent discovery that an individual gene, Cyclin G, plays a central role—adaptive or not—in developmental stability in Drosophila.1 We discuss the implications of this discovery on the regulation of organ size and shape, and finally point out open questions.

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