Shape and function of the Bicoid morphogen gradient in dipteran species with different sized embryos

Thomas Gregor, Alistair P. McGregor, Eric F. Wieschaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


The Bicoid morphogen evolved approximately 150 MYA from a Hox3 duplication and is only found in higher dipterans. A major difference between dipteran species, however, is the size of the embryo, which varies up to 5-fold. Although the expression of developmental factors scale with egg length, it remains unknown how this scaling is achieved. To test whether scaling is accounted for by the properties of Bicoid, we expressed eGFP fused to the coding region of bicoid from three dipteran species in transgenic Drosophila embryos using the Drosophila bicoid cis-regulatory and mRNA localization sequences. In such embryos, we find that Lucilia sericata and Calliphora vicina Bicoid produce gradients very similar to the endogenous Drosophila gradient and much shorter than what they would have produced in their own respective species. The common shape of the Drosophila, Lucilia and Calliphora Bicoid gradients appears to be a conserved feature of the Bicoid protein. Surprisingly, despite their similar distributions, we find that Bicoid from Lucilia and Calliphora do not rescue Drosophila bicoid mutants, suggesting that that Bicoid proteins have evolved species-specific functional amino acid differences. We also found that maternal expression and anteriorly localization of proteins other than Bcd does not necessarily give rise to a gradient; eGFP produced a uniform protein distribution. However, a shallow gradient was observed using eGFP-NLS, suggesting nuclear localization may be necessary but not sufficient for gradient formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)350-358
Number of pages9
JournalDevelopmental biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 15 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology


  • Bicoid
  • Calliphora
  • Development
  • Drosophila
  • Evolution
  • Gradient
  • Lucilia
  • Morphogen
  • Scaling


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