Transcriptional heterochrony of scute and changes in bristle pattern between two closely related species of blowfly

Nick Skaer, Daniela Pistillo, Pat Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Temporal shifts in the expression of regulatory genes, relative to other events taking place during development, can result in changes in morphology. Such transcriptional heterochrony can introduce dramatic morphological changes that involve rather few genetic events and so has the potential to cause rapid changes during evolution. We have shown previously that stereotyped species-specific bristle patterns on the notum of higher Diptera correlate with changes in the spatial regulation of scute expression. scute encodes a proneural gene required for the development of sensory bristle precursors and is expressed before pupation in discrete domains on the presumptive notum at sites where the macrochaete precursors arise. Thus, for Ceratitis capitata and Calliphora vicina, species separated from Drosophila melanogaster by about 80 and 100 million years respectively, the domains of sc expression differ. In all three species, a second phase of ubiquitous sc expression, after pupation, precedes formation of the microchaete precursors. Here, we describe sc expression in Phormia terranovae, a species belonging to the family Calliphoridae that is closely related to C. vicina. We find that spatial regulation is almost identical between P. terranovae and C. vicina, in spite of their different bristle patterns. The timing of sc expression differs, however, between the two. The first spatially restricted phase of expression is slightly delayed and the second ubiquitous phase remarkably accelerated, such that there is a period of overlap. As a result, the last precursors from the first phase of expression arise at the same time as the first precursors from the second phase of expression and are morphologically indistinguishable from the late-arising microchaetes. These observations illustrate the power of developmental heterochrony in bringing about rapid morphological change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-45
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • achaete-scute
  • Blowfly
  • Bristle pattern
  • Diptera
  • Heterochrony

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology


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