Quantifying the relative contribution and furthering qualitative understanding of ftz cis-regulatory elements in Drosophila melanogaster

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Embryonic development is coordinated by interactions within gene regulatory networks. This process is orchestrated at the level of transcription through the regulatory properties of enhancers, which direct spatiotemporal expression patterns when bound by specific trans-acting factors. Though enhancers can act upon promoters located at great distances irrespective of orientation, the contributions from these cis-regulatory elements (CREs) are limited by insulators and/or tethering elements that organize chromatin architecture. Much research has been conducted towards understanding the coordination of the segmentation genes that pattern the basic body plan of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, during embryogenesis. The pair-rule genes (PRGs) of this pathway, such as fushi tarazu (ftz), are expressed in seven alternating stripes across the embryo. These PRGs are required for the development of body segments, and the mis-regulation of a single transcriptional domain can result in the loss of a segment. Here, I have investigated the ftz CREs to more precisely determine their sufficiency to direct expression within ftz stripe domains and their necessity for doing so in the native context of the gene. To investigate the sufficiency, I have generated 36 standardized reporter transgenes from 18 CREs, tested in both forward and reverse orientations. All CREs examined have been inserted into the same XbaI site of the reporter plasmid, and the transgenes have been inserted into the same genomic region. Through in situ hybridization experiments, I have determined that the qualitative patterns conferred by every CRE is orientation-dependent, and I have identified two putative insulators and/or tethering elements, proposed to explain this observation. To investigate their necessity, I targeted four genomic regulatory regions for precise deletion using the CRISPR/Cas9 system to generate seven deletion mutants. Though deletions were expected to cause lethality, most of the mutants are homozygous viable and fertile; only a mutant simultaneously removing two seven-stripe CREs was homozygous lethal. Quantitative gene expression analysis by fluorescent in situ hybridization chain reaction revealed that there is a critical threshold of ftz abundance required in each stripe for segmentation to proceed. In conclusion, I have determined that the ftz CREs are redundant and function together in a non-additive manner.