Sensory control of sporulation in Physarum polycephalum plasmodia is mediated by a branched signal-transduction pathway that integrates blue light, far-red light, heat shock and the starvation state. Mutants defective in the pathway were isolated and three phenotypes obtained: blue-blind, general-blind and light-independent sporulating. When plasmodia of the blue-blind mutant Blu1 were exposed to a pulse of blue light and subsequently fused to non-induced wild-type plasmodia, the resulting heterokaryons sporulated, indicating a functional blue- light photoreceptor in the mutant. When the general-blind mutant Nos1 was fused to a wild-type plasmodium which had been induced by light, sporulation of the heterokaryon was blocked. However, the dominant inhibition of sporulation by Nos1 was gradually lost with increasing time between induction by light and time of fusion, suggesting that Nos1 can be bypassed by the time-dependent formation of a downstream signal-transduction intermediate. Phenotype expression in constitutively sporulating (Cos) mutants depended on starvation. The Cos2 product was titrated by fusing mutant plasmodia of different sizes to wild-type plasmodia of constant size and analysing the sporulation probability of the resulting heterokaryon. The titration curve indicates that a small change in the amount of Cos2 product can cause sporulation. We conclude that somatic complementation analysis allows the time-resolved evaluation of the regulatory function of mutations in a signal-transduction pathway without prior cloning of the gene. This shortcut allows us to characterize many mutants quickly and to select those for molecular analysis that display a well-defined regulatory function.

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