We have cloned a Caenorhabditis elegans homologue of the Drosophila gap gene hunchback (hb) and have designated it hbl-1 (hunchback-like). hbl-1 encodes a predicted 982-amino-acid protein, containing two putative zinc-finger domains similar to those of Drosophila Hunchback. The gene is transcribed embryonically, but unlike the maternally expressed Drosophila hb, its mRNA is not detected in C. elegans oocytes. A hbl-1::gfp reporter is expressed primarily in ectodermal cells during embryonic and larval development. Double-stranded RNA-interference (RNAi) was used to indicate hbl-1 loss-of-function phenotypes. Progeny of hbl-1(RNAi) hermaphrodites exhibit a range of defects; the most severely affected progeny arrest as partially elongated embryos or as hatching, misshapen L1 larvae. Animals that survive to adulthood exhibit variably dumpy (Dpy), uncoordinated (Unc), and egg-laying defective (Egl) phenotypes, as well as defects in vulval morphology (Pvl). Abnormal organization of hypodermal cells and expression of a hypodermal marker in hbl-1(RNAi) animals suggests that most of the phenotypes observed could be due to improper specification of hypodermal cells. The pattern of hbl-1 expression is similar to that reported for the leech hunchback homologue Lzf-2, suggesting that these proteins may have similar biological functions in diverse species with cellular embryos.
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