An important feature of development is the formation of patterns that are proportional to the overall size of the embryo. But how such proportionality, or scaling, is achieved mechanistically remains poorly understood. Furthermore, it is currently unclear whether organisms utilize similar or distinct mechanisms to achieve scaling within a species and between species. Here we investigate within-species scaling mechanisms for anterior-posterior (A-P) patterning in Drosophila melanogaster, focusing specifically on the properties of the Bicoid (Bcd) morphogen gradient. Using embryos from lines artificially selected for large and small egg volume, we show that large embryos have higher nuclear Bcd concentrations in the anterior than small embryos. This anterior difference leads to scaling properties of the Bcd gradient profiles: in broad regions of the large and small embryos along the A-P axis, normalizing their positions to embryo length reduces the differences in both the nuclear Bcd concentrations and Bcd-encoded positional information. We further trace the origin of Bcd gradient scaling by showing directly that large embryos have more maternally deposited bcd mRNA than small embryos. Our results suggest a simple model for how within-species Bcd gradient scaling can be achieved. In this model, the Bcd production rate, which is dependent on the total number of bcd mRNA molecules in the anterior, is scaled with embryo volume.
- Accepted April 22, 2011.