The maternal determinant Bicoid (Bcd) represents the paradigm of a morphogen that provides positional information for pattern formation. However, as bicoid seems to be a recently acquired gene in flies, the question was raised as to how embryonic patterning is achieved in organisms with more ancestral modes of development. Because the phylogenetically conserved Hunchback (Hb) protein had previously been shown to act as a morphogen in abdominal patterning, we asked which functions of Bcd could be performed by Hb. By reestablishing a proposed ancient regulatory circuitry in which maternal Hb controls zygotic hunchback expression, we show that Hb is able to form thoracic segments in the absence of Bcd.
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