Many larval color mutants have been obtained in the silkworm Bombyx mori. Mapping of melanin-synthesis genes on the Bombyx linkage map revealed that yellow and ebony genes were located near the chocolate (ch) and sooty (so) loci, respectively. In the ch mutants, body color of neonate larvae and the body markings of elder instar larvae are reddish brown instead of normal black. Mutations at the so locus produce smoky larvae and black pupae. F2 linkage analyses showed that sequence polymorphisms of yellow and ebony genes perfectly cosegregated with the ch and so mutant phenotypes, respectively. Both yellow and ebony were expressed in the epidermis during the molting period when cuticular pigmentation occurred. The spatial expression pattern of yellow transcripts coincided with the larval black markings. In the ch mutants, nonsense mutations of the yellow gene were detected, whereas large deletions of the ebony ORF were detected in the so mutants. These results indicate that yellow and ebony are the responsible genes for the ch and so loci, respectively. Our findings suggest that Yellow promotes melanization, whereas Ebony inhibits melanization in Lepidoptera and that melanin-synthesis enzymes play a critical role in the lepidopteran larval color pattern.
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