Ras mediates a plethora of cellular functions during development. In the developing eye of Drosophila, Ras performs three temporally separate functions. In dividing cells, it is required for growth but is not essential for cell cycle progression. In postmitotic cells, it promotes survival and subsequent differentiation of ommatidial cells. In the present paper, we have analyzed the different roles of Ras during eye development by using molecularly defined complete and partial loss-of-function mutations of Ras. We show that the three different functions of Ras are mediated by distinct thresholds of MAPK activity. Low MAPK activity prolongs cell survival and permits differentiation of R8 photoreceptor cells while high or persistent MAPK activity is sufficient to precociously induce R1-R7 photoreceptor differentiation in dividing cells.

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