Stressful for the Long Haul

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Science  18 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6083, pp. 780
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6083.780-a

Cold, dehydration, variation in food supply—these are all potential environmental stressors that organisms must face. Often, organisms have mechanisms that can accommodate such challenges, at least to a degree; however, some challenges, particularly those that are rare, can have detrimental effects. Recent studies have reported that developmental changes resulting from such challenges are sometimes passed to subsequent generations through epigenetic mechanisms. Stern et al. sought to further examine this using the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Drosophila larvae were exposed to toxic stress through supplementation of their food with the drug G418. Stress was applied in a region-specific manner, however, because the flies were engineered to express a resistance gene under the regulation of an arbitrary spatiotemporally restricted developmental promoter. The developmental responses of the flies varied (for example, reduced fly size or deformed wings) as measured by survival rate, larval development, and morphology. Such variation was the result of the resistance genes being under the control of different promoters. The ability to tolerate the stressor was dependent on the down-regulation of Polycomb Group genes. Examination of progeny from toxin-exposed flies, who themselves were not exposed to the toxin, revealed that offspring from several subsequent generations retained the resistance gene before converting back to the normal fly phenotype. These results indicate that stressors may induce both heritable and nonheritable developmental effects.

Cell Rep. 1, 10.1016/j.celrep.2012.03.012 (2012).

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