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Date of Original Version



Biological Sciences


Pigmentation patterning has long interested biologists, integrating topics in ecology, development, genetics, and physiology. Wild-type neonatal larvae of the silkworm, Bombyx mori, are completely black. By contrast, the epidermis and head of larvae of the homozygous recessive sex-linked chocolate (sch) mutant are reddish brown. When incubated at 30 °C, mutants with the sch allele fail to hatch; moreover, homozygous mutants carrying the allele sch lethal (schl) do not hatch even at room temperature (25 °C). By positional cloning, we narrowed a region containing sch to 239,622 bp on chromosome 1 using 4,501 backcross (BC1) individuals. Based on expression analyses, the best sch candidate gene was shown to be tyrosine hydroxylase (BmTh). BmTh coding sequences were identical among sch, schl, and wild-type. However, in sch the ∼70-kb sequence was replaced with ∼4.6 kb of a Tc1-mariner type transposon located ∼6 kb upstream of BmTh, and in schl, a large fragment of an L1Bm retrotransposon was inserted just in front of the transcription start site of BmTh. In both cases, we observed a drastic reduction of BmTh expression. Use of RNAi with BmTh prevented pigmentation and hatching, and feeding of a tyrosine hydroxylase inhibitor also suppressed larval pigmentation in the wild-type strain, pnd+ and in a pS (black-striped) heterozygote. Feeding L-dopa to sch neonate larvae rescued the mutant phenotype from chocolate to black. Our results indicate the BmTh gene is responsible for the sch mutation, which plays an important role in melanin synthesis producing neonatal larval color.