Heart rate in pre-pupae of Drosophila melanogaster is shown to vary over a wide range from 2·5 to 3·7 beats per second. Quantitative genetic analysis of a sample of 11 highly inbred lines indicates that approaching one-quarter of the total variance in natural populations can be attributed to genetic differences between flies. A hypomorphic allele of the potassium channel gene ether-a-gogo, which is homologous to a human long-QT syndrome susceptibility gene (HERG), has a heart rate at the low end of the wild-type range, but this effect can be suppressed in certain wild-type genetic backgrounds. This study provides a baseline for investigation of pharmacological and other physiological influences on heart rate in the model organism, and implies that quantitative genetic dissection will provide insight into the molecular basis for variation in normal and arrhythmic heart function.
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