Yasir H. Ahmed-Braimah, Andrea L. Sweigart
The genetic basis of species differences remains understudied. Studies in insects have contributed significantly to our understanding of morphological evolution. Pigmentation traits in particular have received a great deal of attention and several genes in the insect pigmentation pathway have been implicated in inter- and intraspecific differences. Nonetheless, much remains unknown about many of the genes in this pathway and their potential role in understudied taxa. Here we genetically analyze the puparium color difference between members of the Virilis group of Drosophila. The puparium of Drosophila virilis is black, while those of D. americana, D. novamexicana, and D. lummei are brown. We used a series of backcross hybrid populations between D. americana and D. virilis to map the genomic interval responsible for the difference between this species pair. First, we show that the pupal case color difference is caused by a single Mendelizing factor, which we ultimately map to an ~11kb region on chromosome 5. The mapped interval includes only the first exon and regulatory region(s) of the dopamine N-acetyltransferase gene (Dat). This gene encodes an enzyme that is known to play a part in the insect pigmentation pathway. Second, we show that this gene is highly expressed at the onset of pupation in light-brown taxa (D. americana and D. novamexicana) relative to D. virilis, but not in the dark-brown D. lummei. Finally, we examine the role of Dat in adult pigmentation between D. americana (heavily melanized) and D. novamexicana (lightly melanized) and find no discernible effect of this gene in adults. Our results demonstrate that a single gene is entirely or almost entirely responsible for a morphological difference between species.