How Maternal-Effect Genes Control Early Drosophila Development

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kristin Klucevsek

Kristin has taught college Biology courses and has her doctorate in Biology.

Maternal-effect genes control early 'Drosophila' development through transcripts or mRNAs found in the unfertilized eggs of females. Learn about maternal-effects genes, including the 'bicoid,' in Drosophila. Updated: 09/02/2021

Maternal-Effect Genes

In this lesson, we'll begin to learn how we're lucky enough to be surrounded by such perfect-looking fruit flies. Just like the development of a human being, fruit fly development from eggs into adult flies is no simple task. The precise expression of specific genes is crucial if we want to end up with an adorable baby Drosophila. Remember that there are three classes of genes that are involved in the early development of a fly. We will discuss how these classes of genes are particularly important for pattern formation of the anterior to posterior axis. These include the maternal-effect genes, segmentation genes and homeotic genes.

Let's focus on the role of the first class of genes. The maternal-effect genes encode for proteins that establish a concentration gradient across an embryo. Transcripts, or mRNAs, from many of these maternal-effect genes can be found in the unfertilized eggs of females. This is why they are known as the maternal-effect genes, as they are specified by the genotype of the mommy fly.

Once fertilized, these transcripts are translated into proteins that control the expression of some segmentation genes. Maternal-effect mRNAs and proteins are found within the cytoplasm of the egg, or ovum. These proteins can be transcription factors, which regulate transcription of specific segmentation genes, or translational control factors, which control the translation of specific transcripts into proteins. Therefore, these maternal-effect genes set up a concentration gradient that, in turn, helps set up the anterior-posterior axis in the cytoplasm of the egg even before fertilization begins.

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Coming up next: Segmentation Genes in Drosophila Development: Pair Rule, Segment Polarity & Gap Genes

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Bicoid

There are several maternal-effect genes that have been discovered. In order to better understand how these genes are important to pattern formation, we'll focus on a specific, well-studied example. Bear in mind, however, that each maternal-effect gene can have different phenotypic consequences and be expressed differently.

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