Linked White Eyes in Drosophila

The first person to explain sex-linked inheritance was the American biologist Thomas Hunt Morgan ( FIGURE 4.13a). Morgan began his career as an embryologist, but the discovery of Mendel's principles inspired him to begin conducting genetic experiments, initially on mice and rats. In 1909, Morgan switched to Drosophila melanogaster; a year later, he discovered among the flies of his laboratory colony a single male that possessed white eyes, in stark contrast with the red eyes of normal fruit flies. This fly had a tremendous effect on the future of genetics and on Morgan's career as a biologist. With his white-eyed male, Morgan unraveled the mechanism of X-linked inheritance, ushering in the "golden age" of Drosophila genetics that lasted from 1910 until 1930.

Morgan's laboratory, located on the top floor of Scher-merhorn Hall at Columbia University, became known as the Fly Room (I FIGURE 4.13b). To say that the Fly Room was unimpressive is an understatement. The cramped room, only about 16 X 23 feet, was filled with eight desks, each occupied by a student and his experiments. The primitive laboratory equipment consisted of little more than milk bottles for rearing the flies and hand-held lenses for observing their traits. Later, microscopes replaced the hand-held lenses, and crude incubators were added to maintain the fly


4.13 Thomas Hunt Morgan's work with Drosophila helped unravel many basic principles in genetics, including X-linked inheritance. (a) Morgan. (b) The Fly Room, where Morgan and his students conducted genetic research. (Part a, World Wide Photos; Part b, American Philisophical Society.)

cultures, but even these additions did little to increase the physical sophistication of the laboratory. Morgan and his students were not tidy: cockroaches were abundant (living off spilled Drosophila food), dirty milk bottles filled the sink, ripe bananas — food for the flies — hung from the ceiling, and escaped fruit flies hovered everywhere.

In spite of its physical limitations, the Fly Room was the source of some of the most important research in the history of biology. There was daily excitement among the students, some of whom initially came to the laboratory as undergraduates. The close quarters facilitated informality and the free flow of ideas. Morgan and the Fly Room illustrate the tremendous importance of "atmosphere" in producing good science.

To explain the inheritance of the white-eyed characteristic in fruit flies, Morgan systematically carried out a series of genetic crosses ( FIGURE 4.14a). First, he crossed pure-breeding, red-eyed females with his white-eyed male, producing Fj progeny that all had red eyes. (In fact, Morgan found three white-eyed males among the 1237 progeny, but he assumed that the white eyes were due to new mutations.) Morgan's results from this initial cross were consistent with Mendel's principles: a cross between a homozygous dominant individual and a homozygous recessive individual produces heterozygous offspring exhibiting the dominant trait. His results suggested that white eyes were a simple recessive trait. However, when Morgan crossed the Fj flies with one another, he found that all the female F2 flies possessed red eyes but that half the male F2 flies had red eyes and the other half had white eyes. This finding was clearly not the expected result for a simple recessive trait, which should appear in % of both male and female F2 offspring.

To explain this unexpected result, Morgan proposed that the locus affecting eye color was on the X chromosome (that eye color was X linked). He recognized that the eye-color alleles were present only on the X chromosome — no homologous allele was present on the Y chromosome. Because the cells of females possess two X chromosomes, females could be homozygous or heterozygous for the eye-color alleles. The cells of males, on the other hand, possess only a single X chromosome and can carry only a single eye-color allele. Males therefore cannot be either homozy-gous or heterozygous but are said to be hemizygous for X-linked loci.

To verify his hypothesis that the white-eye trait is X linked, Morgan conducted additional crosses. He predicted that a cross between a white-eyed female and a red-eyed male would produce all red-eyed females and all white-eyed males (I FIGURE 4.14b). When Morgan performed this cross, the results were exactly as predicted. Note that this cross is the reciprocal of the original cross and that the two reciprocal crosses produced different results in the Fj and F2 generations. Morgan also crossed the Fj heterozygous females with their white-eyed father, the red-eyed F2 females with white-eyed males, and white-eyed females with white-eyed males. In all of these crosses, the results were consistent with Morgan's conclusion that white eyes is an X-linked characteristic.

of Thomas Hunt Morgan

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(a) Red-eyed female crossed with white-eyed male

(b) Reciprocal cross (white-eyed female crossed with red-eyed male)

P generation

Red-eyed female

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