IT has been proposed that the evolution of homeotic genes parallels, and to some degree directs, the evolution of segment diversity in the myriapod-insect lineage1-3. But the discovery of discrete Antennapedia complex (ANT-C) and bithorax complex (BX-C) gene members in Crustacea4, chelicerates5, annelids6-8 and various insects9-11, as well as in vertebrates12, indicates that the expansion and diversification of homeotic genes preceded the diversification of arthropods and insects. How, then, have these genes influenced the evolution of body plans? To address this question, we now examine homeotic gene expression and regulation in butterflies (Lepidoptera), which, unlike flies, possess larval abdominal limbs and two pairs of wings. We show that the difference in larval limb number between these insects results from striking changes in BX-C gene regulation in the butterfly abdomen, and we deduce that the wing-patterning genes regulated by Ultrabithorax have diverged in the course of butterfly and fly evolution. These findings have gen-eral implications for the role of homeotic genes in animal evolution.
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