Latitudinal clines in heat tolerance, protein synthesis rate and transcript level of a candidate gene in Drosophila melanogaster

Authors: Fiona E Cockerell, Carla M Sgrò and Stephen W McKechnie

Published in: Journal of Insect Physiology, volume 60 (January 2014)


  • We investigate heat tolerance in D. melanogaster reared at 18 and 25 °C from populations collected over a range of latitudes.
  • Tropical flies are more heat tolerant than temperate region flies after heat hardening.
  • Total protein synthesis rates vary clinally depending on temperature conditions.
  • Levels of a major transcript of the heat-stress hsr-omega gene vary clinally.


The occurrence of climatic adaptation in Drosophila melanogaster is highlighted by the presence of latitudinal clines in several quantitative traits, particularly clines in adult heat knockdown tolerance that is higher in tropical populations. However the presence of latitudinal patterns in physiological characteristics that may underlie these traits have rarely been assessed.

Protein synthesis has been implicated as an important physiological process that influences thermal tolerance, and this has not been examined in a clinal context.

Here, we characterise latitudinal variation in D. melanogaster from eastern Australia in both adult heat knockdown tolerance and rates of protein synthesis following rearing at both 25 °C, approximating summer conditions, and 18 °C, approximating winter development.

We also examined clinal variation in the predominant nuclear transcript of the heat-inducible RNA gene hsr-omega, which has been implicated in regulating protein synthesis.

We find significant clines in heat-hardened tolerance when cultured at both 18 and 25 °C — tolerance increased towards the low latitude tropics. Rates of protein synthesis measured in ovarian tissue also associated negatively with latitude, however the presence of the clines depended on rearing temperature and heat stress conditions.

Finally, omega-n levels measured without heat stress showed a positive linear cline. When measured after a mild heat stress higher levels of omega-n were detected and the clinal pattern became parabolic — mid-latitude populations had lower levels of the transcript.

While congruent latitudinal trends were detected for these three traits, only a low level of positive association was detected between protein synthesis and thermal tolerance providing little evidence that these traits are related at the level of cellular physiology. However the new clinal patterns of protein synthesis and hsr-omega variation suggest that these variables exert important influences on traits involved with latitudinal climatic adaptation.


Cockerell FE, Sgrò CM, McKechnie SW (2014) Latitudinal clines in heat tolerance, protein synthesis rate and transcript level of a candidate gene in Drosophila melanogaster. Journal of Insect Physiology 60: 136-144 PDF DOI