The somatic muscles, the heart, the fat body, the somatic part of the gonad and most of the visceral muscles are derived from a series of segmentally repeated primordia in the Drosophila mesoderm. This work describes the early development of the fat body and its relationship to the gonadal mesoderm, as well as the genetic control of the development of these tissues. Segmentation and dorsoventral patterning genes define three regions in each parasegment in which fat body precursors can develop. Fat body progenitors in these regions are specified by different genetic pathways. Two regions require engrailed and hedgehog for their development while the third is controlled by wingless. decapentaplegic and one or more unknown genes determine the dorsoventral extent of these regions. In each of parasegments 10–12 one of these regions generates somatic gonadal precursors instead of fat body. The balance between fat body and somatic gonadal fate in these serially homologous cell clusters is controlled by at least five genes. We suggest a model in which tinman, engrailed and wingless are necessary to permit somatic gonadal develoment, while serpent counteracts the effects of these genes and promotes fat body development. The homeotic gene abdominalA limits the region of serpent activity by interfering in a mutually repressive feed back loop between gonadal and fat body development.

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