At Heidelberg, Nusslein-Volhard and Wieschaus spent more than a year
crossbreeding 40,000 fruit fly families and systematically examining
their genetic makeup at a dual microscope. Their trial-and-error methods
resulted in the discovery that of the fly's 20,000 genes, about 5,000
are deemed important to early development and about 140 are essential.
They assigned responsibility for the fruit fly's embryonic development
to three genetic categories: gap genes, which lay out the head-to-tail
body plan; pair-rule genes, which determine body segmentation; and segment-polarity
genes, which establish repeating structures within each segment.
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