Optogenetic Rescue of a Patterning Mutant.
Animal embryos are patterned by a handful of highly conserved inductive signals. Yet, in most cases, it is unknown which pattern features (i.e., spatial gradients or temporal dynamics) are required to support normal development. An ideal experiment to address this question would be to "paint" arbitrary synthetic signaling patterns on "blank canvas" embryos to dissect their requirements. Here, we demonstrate exactly this capability by combining optogenetic control of Ras/extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK) signaling with the genetic loss of the receptor tyrosine-kinase-driven terminal signaling patterning in early Drosophila embryos. Blue-light illumination at the embryonic termini for 90 min was sufficient to rescue normal development, generating viable larvae and fertile adults from an otherwise lethal terminal signaling mutant. Optogenetic rescue was possible even using a simple, all-or-none light input that reduced the gradient of Erk activity and eliminated spatiotemporal differences in terminal gap gene expression. Systematically varying illumination parameters further revealed that at least three distinct developmental programs are triggered at different signaling thresholds and that the morphogenetic movements of gastrulation are robust to a 3-fold variation in the posterior pattern width. These results open the door to controlling tissue organization with simple optical stimuli, providing new tools to probe natural developmental processes, create synthetic tissues with defined organization, or directly correct the patterning errors that underlie developmental defects.