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Molecular genetics of the Drosophila eyes absent gene


Leiserson, William M. (1994) Molecular genetics of the Drosophila eyes absent gene. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/3jn4-xk56.


The Drosophila compound eye has provided a genetic approach to understanding the specification of cell fates during differentiation. The eye is made up of some 750 repeated units or ommatidia, arranged in a lattice. The cellular composition of each ommatidium is identical. The arrangement of the lattice and the specification of cell fates in each ommatidium are thought to occur in development through cellular interactions with the local environment. Many mutations have been studied that disrupt the proper patterning and cell fating in the eye. The eyes absent (eya) mutation, the subject of this thesis, was chosen because of its eyeless phenotype. In eya mutants, eye progenitor cells undergo programmed cell death before the onset of patterning has occurred. The molecular genetic analysis of the gene is presented.

The eye arises from the larval eye-antennal imaginal disc. During the third larval instar, a wave of differentiation progresses across the disc, marked by a furrow. Anterior to the furrow, proliferating cells are found in apparent disarray. Posterior to the furrow, clusters of differentiating cells can be discerned, that correspond to the ommatidia of the adult eye. Analysis of an allelic series of eya mutants in comparison to wild type revealed the presence of a selection point: a wave of programmed cell death that normally precedes the furrow. In eya mutants, an excessive number of eye progenitor cells die at this selection point, suggesting the eya gene influences the distribution of cells between fates of death and differentiation.

In addition to its role in the eye, the eya gene has an embryonic function. The eye function is autonomous to the eye progenitor cells. Molecular maps of the eye and embryonic phenotypes are different. Therefore, the function of eya in the eye can be treated independently of the embryonic function. Cloning of the gene reveals two cDNA's that are identical except for the use of an alternatively-spliced 5' exon. The predicted protein products differ only at the N-termini. Sequence analysis shows these two proteins to be the first of their kind to be isolated. Trangenic studies using the two cDNA's show that either gene product is able to rescue the eye phenotype of eya mutants.

The eya gene exhibits interallelic complementation. This interaction is an example of an "allelic position effect": an interaction that depends on the relative position in the genome of the two alleles, which is thought to be mediated by chromosomal pairing. The interaction at eya is essentially identical to a phenomenon known as transvection, which is an allelic position effect that is sensitive to certain kinds of chromosomal rearrangements. A current model for the mechanism of transvection is the trans action of gene regulatory regions. The eya locus is particularly well suited for the study of transvection because the mutant phenotypes can be quantified by scoring the size of the eye.

The molecular genetic analysis of eya provides a system for uncovering mechanisms underlying differentiation, developmentally regulated programmed cell death, and gene regulation.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Biology
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Major Option:Biology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Benzer, Seymour
Thesis Committee:
  • Anderson, David J.
  • Lipshitz, Howard D.
  • Sternberg, Paul W.
Defense Date:20 December 1993
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05082013-155756716
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7684
Deposited On:08 May 2013 23:45
Last Modified:09 Nov 2022 19:20

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