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Sex-specific plasticity and the nutritional geometry of insulin-signaling gene expression in Drosophila melanogaster


Shingleton, Alexander et al. (2021), Sex-specific plasticity and the nutritional geometry of insulin-signaling gene expression in Drosophila melanogaster, Dryad, Dataset,



Sexual-size dimorphism (SSD) is replete among animals, but while the selective pressures that drive the evolution of SSD have been well studied, the developmental mechanisms upon which these pressures act are poorly understood. Ours and others’ research has shown that SSD in D. melanogaster reflects elevated levels of nutritional plasticity in females versus males, such that SSD increases with dietary intake and body size, a phenomenon called sex-specific plasticity (SSP). Additional data indicate that while body size in both sexes responds to variation in protein level, only female body size is sensitive to variation in carbohydrate level. Here, we explore whether these difference in sensitivity at the morphological level are reflected by differences in how the insulin/IGF-signaling (IIS) and TOR-signaling pathways respond to changes in carbohydrates and proteins in females versus males, using a nutritional geometry approach.


The IIS-regulated transcripts of 4E-BP and InR most strongly correlated with body size in females and males, respectively, but neither responded to carbohydrate level and so could not explain the sex-specific response to body size to dietary carbohydrate. Transcripts regulated by TOR-signaling did, however, respond to dietary carbohydrate in a sex-specific manner. In females, expression of dILP5 positively correlated with body size, while expression of dILP2,3 and 8, was elevated on diets with a low concentration of both carbohydrate and protein. In contrast, we detected lower levels of dILP2 and 5 protein in the brains of females fed on low concentration diets. We could not detect any effect of diet on dILP expression in males.


Although females and males show sex-specific transcriptional responses to changes in protein and carbohydrate, the patterns of expression do not support a simple model of the regulation of body-size SSP by either insulin- or TOR-signaling. The data also indicate a complex relationship between carbohydrate and protein level, dILP expression and dILP peptide levels in the brain. In general, diet quality and sex both affect the transcriptional response to changes in diet quantity, and so should be considered in future studies that explore the effect of nutrition on body size.


The data are morphological measurements on wing, palp, leg and thorax size, and gene expression analysis of insulin/TOR-signaling genes of Drosophila melanogaster reared across a nutritional landscape varying in proteins and carbohydrate levels. Details of the methods to collect the data are described in the published paper.

Usage Notes

The data are in .csv format. There are two data sets: one for morphological data and one for gene expression data. All the data are log transformed from their raw values and can be analyzed directly with the R scripts provided. Missing values are given as 'NA'.


National Science Foundation, Award: IOS-1952385