Temperature Stress Mediates Decanalization and Dominance of Gene Expression in Drosophila melanogaster

The regulatory architecture of gene expression remains an area of active research. Here, we studied how the interplay of genetic and environmental variation affects gene expression by exposing Drosophila melanogaster strains to four different developmental temperatures. At 18°C we observed almost complete canalization with only very few allelic effects on gene expression. In contrast, at the two temperature extremes, 13°C and 29°C a large number of allelic differences in gene expression were detected due to both cis- and trans-regulatory effects. Allelic differences in gene expression were mainly dominant, but for up to 62% of the genes the dominance swapped between 13 and 29°C. Our results are consistent with stabilizing selection causing buffering of allelic expression variation in non-stressful environments. We propose that decanalization of gene expression in stressful environments is not only central to adaptation, but may also contribute to genetic disorders in human populations.