Genetic screens are designed to target individual genes for the practical reason of establishing a clear association between a mutant phenotype and a single genetic locus. This allows for a developmental or physiological role to be assigned to the wild-type gene. We previously observed that the concurrent loss of Pax6 and Polycomb epigenetic repressors in Drosophila leads the eye to transform into a wing. This fate change is not seen when either factor is disrupted separately. An implication of this finding is that standard screens may miss the roles that combinations of genes play in development. Here, we show that this phenomenon is not limited to Pax6 and Polycomb but rather applies more generally. We demonstrate that in the Drosophila eye-antennal disc, the simultaneous downregulation of Pax6 with either the NURF nucleosome remodeling complex or the Pointed transcription factor transforms the head epidermis into an antenna. This is a previously unidentified fate change that is also not observed with the loss of individual genes. We propose that the use of multi-gene knockdowns is an essential tool for unraveling the complexity of development.

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