Evolution of a novel appendage ground plan in water striders is driven by changes in the Hox gene Ultrabithorax

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Abstract

Water striders, a group of semi-aquatic bugs adapted to life on the water surface, have evolved mid-legs (L2) that are long relative to their hind-legs (L3). This novel appendage ground plan is a derived feature among insects, where L2 function as oars and L3 as rudders. The Hox gene Ultrabithorax (Ubx) is known to increase appendage size in a variety of insects. Using gene expression and RNAi analysis, we discovered that Ubx is expressed in both L2 and L3, but Ubx functions to elongate L2 and to shorten L3 in the water strider Gerris buenoi. Therefore, within hemimetabolous insects, Ubx has evolved a new expression domain but maintained its ancestral elongating function in L2, whereas Ubx has maintained its ancestral expression domain but evolved a new shortening function in L3. These changes in Ubx expression and function may have been a key event in the evolution of the distinct appendage ground plan in water striders.

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Khila, A., Abouheif, E., & Rowe, L. (2009). Evolution of a novel appendage ground plan in water striders is driven by changes in the Hox gene Ultrabithorax. PLoS Genetics, 5(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1000583

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