The discovery of the first homeotic mutation by Calvin Bridges in 1915 profoundly influenced the way we think about developmental processes. Although many mutations modify or deform morphological structures, homeotic mutations cause a spectacular phenotype in which a morphological structure develops like a copy of a structure that is normally found elsewhere on an organism's body plan. This is best illustrated in Drosophila where homeotic mutations were first discovered. For example, Antennapedia mutants have legs developing on their head instead of antennae. Because a mutation in a single gene creates such complete structures, homeotic genes were proposed to be key "selector genes" regulating the initiation of a developmental program. According to this model, once a specific developmental program is initiated (i.e., antenna or leg), it can be executed by downstream "realizator genes" independent of its location along the body axis. Consistent with this idea, homeotic genes have been shown to encode transcription factor proteins that control the activity of the many downstream targets to "realize" a developmental program. Here, we will review the first and perhaps, best characterized homeotic complex, the Bithorax Complex (BX-C).
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