Going from a simple fertilized egg cell to a fly over the course of
a few weeks is an amazing transformation. A lot of things have to happen:
the body form must be laid out (head/tail, back/belly), different tissues
must be built, and organs must be grown. The adult fly is composed
of a lot of very different parts made of different cellsyet every
cell carries the same genetic instructions. So how does it know what to do?
- Certain genes control where and when other genes are expressed.
Not all genes code
for building material proteins (such
as keratin that makes up part of your skin, or rhodopsin that
makes eyes sensitive to light). Regulatory
genes control when and where other genes get turned on. For example,
these sorts of genes tell the cells of the fly when and where to
start building wings. This occurs during the larval stage on the
second and third segments of the thorax. Regulatory genes can start
a chain reaction of effects, turning on and off other
genes, whose products affect other genes, whose products in their
turn affect other genes, and so on. A single regulatory gene can
thus control the construction of a body part as complex as a leg
The diagram above illustrates how the master control gene regulates other genes, which in turn, regulate other genes.
Different cells have different genes expressed.
Different segments of the developing fly embryo express different genes.
For example, eye cells turn on the genes that make proteins necessary
for visionbut the cells lining the digestive tract dont turn
on these genes. Instead, they turn on genes that create digestive enzymes.
- Chemical signals also influence the fate of cells.
Chemical signals from the environment and from other cells
can affect which genes are turned on in a particular cell. For example, in the developing vertebrate eye,
chemical signals from the retina probably cause adjacent cells to become lens cells instead of some
other type of cells. Here we see a diagram of the optic cup, of which the retina is part, developing
normally. As a result, it sends signals to nearby cells, causing them
to form a lens from the epithelium. The pictures below illustrate what happens to lens development if
the optic cup is removed, transplanted, or replaced by other tissue.