Somatic effects of P element activity in Drosophila melanogaster: pupal lethality.

W. R. Engels, W. K. Benz, C. R. Preston, P. L. Graham, R. W. Phillis, H. M. Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nonautonomous P elements normally excise and transpose only when a source of transposase is supplied, and only in the germline. The germline specificity depends on one of the introns of the transposase gene which is not spliced in somatic cells. To study the effects of somatic P activity, a modified P element (delta 2-3) lacking this intron was used as a source of transposase. Nonautonomous P elements from a strain called Birmingham, when mobilized in somatic cells by delta 2-3, were found to cause lethality, although neither component was lethal by itself. The three major Birmingham chromosomes acted approximately independently in producing the lethal effect. This lethality showed a strong dependence on temperature. Although temperature sensitivity was limited to larval stages, the actual deaths occurred at the pupal stage. Survivors, which could be recovered by decreasing the temperature or by reducing the proportion of the Birmingham genome present, often showed multiple developmental anomalies and reduced longevity reminiscent of the effects of cell death from radiation damage. Although the genetic damage occurred in dividing imaginal disc cells, the phenotypic manifestations--death and abnormalities--are not observed until later. The survivors also showed gonadal dysgenic (GD) sterility, a well-known characteristic of P-M hybrid dysgenesis. To explain these findings, we suggest that pupal lethality and GD sterility are both caused by massive chromosome breakage in larval cells, resulting from excision and transposition of genomic P elements acting as substrate for the transposase.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)745-757
Number of pages13
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1987
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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