Unravelling the genes forming the wing pattern supergene in the polymorphic butterfly Heliconius numata.
ABSTRACT: Background:Unravelling the genetic basis of polymorphic characters is central to our understanding of the origins and diversification of living organisms. Recently, supergenes have been implicated in a wide range of complex polymorphisms, from adaptive colouration in butterflies and fish to reproductive strategies in birds and plants. The concept of a supergene is now a hot topic in biology, and identification of its functional elements is needed to shed light on the evolution of highly divergent adaptive traits. Here, we apply different gene expression analyses to study the supergene P that controls polymorphism of mimetic wing colour patterns in the neotropical butterfly Heliconius numata. Results:We performed de novo transcriptome assembly and differential expression analyses using high-throughput Illumina RNA sequencing on developing wing discs of different H. numata morphs. Within the P interval, 30 and 17 of the 191 transcripts were expressed differentially in prepupae and day-1 pupae, respectively. Among these is the gene cortex, known to play a role in wing pattern formation in Heliconius and other Lepidoptera. Our in situ hybridization experiments confirmed the relationship between cortex expression and adult wing patterns. Conclusions:This study found the majority of genes in the P interval to be expressed in the developing wing discs during the critical stages of colour pattern formation, and detect drastic changes in expression patterns in multiple genes associated with structural variants. The patterns of expression of cortex only partially recapitulate the variation in adult phenotype, suggesting that the remaining phenotypic variation could be controlled by other genes within the P interval. Although functional studies on cortex are now needed to determine its exact developmental role, our results are in accordance with the classical supergene hypothesis, whereby several genes inherited together due to tight linkage control a major developmental switch.
Project description:Genetic dominance in polymorphic loci may respond to selection; however, the evolution of dominance in complex traits remains a puzzle. We analyse dominance at a wing-patterning supergene controlling local mimicry polymorphism in the butterfly Heliconius numata. Supergene alleles are associated with chromosomal inversion polymorphism, defining ancestral versus derived alleles. Using controlled crosses and the new procedure, Colour Pattern Modelling, allowing whole-wing pattern comparisons, we estimate dominance coefficients between alleles. Here we show strict dominance in sympatry favouring mimicry and inconsistent dominance throughout the wing between alleles from distant populations. Furthermore, dominance among derived alleles is uncoordinated across wing-pattern elements, producing mosaic heterozygous patterns determined by a hierarchy in colour expression. By contrast, heterozygotes with an ancestral allele show complete, coordinated dominance of the derived allele, independently of colours. Therefore, distinct dominance mechanisms have evolved in association with supergene inversions, in response to strong selection on mimicry polymorphism.
Project description:We studied whether similar developmental genetic mechanisms are involved in both convergent and divergent evolution. Mimetic insects are known for their diversity of patterns as well as their remarkable evolutionary convergence, and they have played an important role in controversies over the respective roles of selection and constraints in adaptive evolution. Here we contrast three butterfly species, all classic examples of Müllerian mimicry. We used a genetic linkage map to show that a locus, Yb, which controls the presence of a yellow band in geographic races of Heliconius melpomene, maps precisely to the same location as the locus Cr, which has very similar phenotypic effects in its co-mimic H. erato. Furthermore, the same genomic location acts as a "supergene", determining multiple sympatric morphs in a third species, H. numata. H. numata is a species with a very different phenotypic appearance, whose many forms mimic different unrelated ithomiine butterflies in the genus Melinaea. Other unlinked colour pattern loci map to a homologous linkage group in the co-mimics H. melpomene and H. erato, but they are not involved in mimetic polymorphism in H. numata. Hence, a single region from the multilocus colour pattern architecture of H. melpomene and H. erato appears to have gained control of the entire wing-pattern variability in H. numata, presumably as a result of selection for mimetic "supergene" polymorphism without intermediates. Although we cannot at this stage confirm the homology of the loci segregating in the three species, our results imply that a conserved yet relatively unconstrained mechanism underlying pattern switching can affect mimicry in radically different ways. We also show that adaptive evolution, both convergent and diversifying, can occur by the repeated involvement of the same genomic regions.
Project description:Supergenes are tight clusters of loci that facilitate the co-segregation of adaptive variation, providing integrated control of complex adaptive phenotypes. Polymorphic supergenes, in which specific combinations of traits are maintained within a single population, were first described for 'pin' and 'thrum' floral types in Primula and Fagopyrum, but classic examples are also found in insect mimicry and snail morphology. Understanding the evolutionary mechanisms that generate these co-adapted gene sets, as well as the mode of limiting the production of unfit recombinant forms, remains a substantial challenge. Here we show that individual wing-pattern morphs in the polymorphic mimetic butterfly Heliconius numata are associated with different genomic rearrangements at the supergene locus P. These rearrangements tighten the genetic linkage between at least two colour-pattern loci that are known to recombine in closely related species, with complete suppression of recombination being observed in experimental crosses across a 400-kilobase interval containing at least 18 genes. In natural populations, notable patterns of linkage disequilibrium (LD) are observed across the entire P region. The resulting divergent haplotype clades and inversion breakpoints are found in complete association with wing-pattern morphs. Our results indicate that allelic combinations at known wing-patterning loci have become locked together in a polymorphic rearrangement at the P locus, forming a supergene that acts as a simple switch between complex adaptive phenotypes found in sympatry. These findings highlight how genomic rearrangements can have a central role in the coexistence of adaptive phenotypes involving several genes acting in concert, by locally limiting recombination and gene flow.
Project description:Characterizing fitness landscapes associated with polymorphic adaptive traits enables investigation of mechanisms allowing transitions between fitness peaks. Here, we explore how natural selection can promote genetic mechanisms preventing heterozygous phenotypes from falling into non-adaptive valleys. Polymorphic mimicry is an ideal system to investigate such fitness landscapes, because the direction of selection acting on complex mimetic colour patterns can be predicted by the local mimetic community composition. Using more than 5000 artificial butterflies displaying colour patterns exhibited by the polymorphic Müllerian mimic Heliconius numata, we directly tested the role of wild predators in shaping fitness landscapes. We compared predation rates on mimetic phenotypes (homozygotes at the supergene controlling colour pattern), intermediate phenotypes (heterozygotes), exotic morphs (absent from the local community) and palatable cryptic phenotypes. Exotic morphs were significantly more attacked than local morphs, highlighting predators' discriminatory capacities. Overall, intermediates were attacked twice as much as local homozygotes, suggesting the existence of deep fitness valleys promoting strict dominance and reduced recombination between supergene alleles. By including information on predators' colour perception, we also showed that protection on intermediates strongly depends on their phenotypic similarity to homozygous phenotypes and that ridges exist between similar phenotypes, which may facilitate divergence in colour patterns.
Project description:Identifying the genetic basis of adaptive variation is challenging in non-model organisms and quantitative real time PCR. is a useful tool for validating predictions regarding the expression of candidate genes. However, comparing expression levels in different conditions requires rigorous experimental design and statistical analyses. Here, we focused on the neotropical passion-vine butterflies Heliconius, non-model species studied in evolutionary biology for their adaptive variation in wing color patterns involved in mimicry and in the signaling of their toxicity to predators. We aimed at selecting stable reference genes to be used for normalization of gene expression data in RT-qPCR analyses from developing wing discs according to the minimal guidelines described in Minimum Information for publication of Quantitative Real-Time PCR Experiments (MIQE). To design internal RT-qPCR controls, we studied the stability of expression of nine candidate reference genes (actin, annexin, eF1?, FK506BP, PolyABP, PolyUBQ, RpL3, RPS3A, and tubulin) at two developmental stages (prepupal and pupal) using three widely used programs (GeNorm, NormFinder and BestKeeper). Results showed that, despite differences in statistical methods, genes RpL3, eF1?, polyABP, and annexin were stably expressed in wing discs in late larval and pupal stages of Heliconius numata This combination of genes may be used as a reference for a reliable study of differential expression in wings for instance for genes involved in important phenotypic variation, such as wing color pattern variation. Through this example, we provide general useful technical recommendations as well as relevant statistical strategies for evolutionary biologists aiming to identify candidate-genes involved adaptive variation in non-model organisms.
Project description:Explaining the maintenance of adaptive diversity within populations is a long-standing goal in evolutionary biology, with important implications for conservation, medicine, and agriculture. Adaptation often leads to the fixation of beneficial alleles, and therefore it erodes local diversity so that understanding the coexistence of multiple adaptive phenotypes requires deciphering the ecological mechanisms that determine their respective benefits. Here, we show how antagonistic frequency-dependent selection (FDS), generated by natural and sexual selection acting on the same trait, maintains mimicry polymorphism in the toxic butterfly Heliconius numata Positive FDS imposed by predators on mimetic signals favors the fixation of the most abundant and best-protected wing-pattern morph, thereby limiting polymorphism. However, by using mate-choice experiments, we reveal disassortative mate preferences of the different wing-pattern morphs. The resulting negative FDS on wing-pattern alleles is consistent with the excess of heterozygote genotypes at the supergene locus controlling wing-pattern variation in natural populations of H. numata The combined effect of positive and negative FDS on visual signals is sufficient to maintain a diversity of morphs displaying accurate mimicry with other local prey, although some of the forms only provide moderate protection against predators. Our findings help understand how alternative adaptive phenotypes can be maintained within populations and emphasize the need to investigate interactions between selective pressures in other cases of puzzling adaptive polymorphism.
Project description:Understanding the genetic architecture of adaptive traits has been at the centre of modern evolutionary biology since Fisher; however, evaluating how the genetic architecture of ecologically important traits influences their diversification has been hampered by the scarcity of empirical data. Now, high-throughput genomics facilitates the detailed exploration of variation in the genome-to-phenotype map among closely related taxa. Here, we investigate the evolution of wing pattern diversity in Heliconius, a clade of neotropical butterflies that have undergone an adaptive radiation for wing-pattern mimicry and are influenced by distinct selection regimes. Using crosses between natural wing-pattern variants, we used genome-wide restriction site-associated DNA (RAD) genotyping, traditional linkage mapping and multivariate image analysis to study the evolution of the architecture of adaptive variation in two closely related species: Heliconius hecale and H. ismenius. We implemented a new morphometric procedure for the analysis of whole-wing pattern variation, which allows visualising spatial heatmaps of genotype-to-phenotype association for each quantitative trait locus separately. We used the H. melpomene reference genome to fine-map variation for each major wing-patterning region uncovered, evaluated the role of candidate genes and compared genetic architectures across the genus. Our results show that, although the loci responding to mimicry selection are highly conserved between species, their effect size and phenotypic action vary throughout the clade. Multilocus architecture is ancestral and maintained across species under directional selection, whereas the single-locus (supergene) inheritance controlling polymorphism in H. numata appears to have evolved only once. Nevertheless, the conservatism in the wing-patterning toolkit found throughout the genus does not appear to constrain phenotypic evolution towards local adaptive optima.
Project description:The wing patterns of butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) are diverse and striking examples of evolutionary diversification by natural selection. Lepidopteran wing colour patterns are a key innovation, consisting of arrays of coloured scales. We still lack a general understanding of how these patterns are controlled and whether this control shows any commonality across the 160,000 moth and 17,000 butterfly species. Here, we use fine-scale mapping with population genomics and gene expression analyses to identify a gene, cortex, that regulates pattern switches in multiple species across the mimetic radiation in Heliconius butterflies. cortex belongs to a fast-evolving subfamily of the otherwise highly conserved fizzy family of cell-cycle regulators, suggesting that it probably regulates pigmentation patterning by regulating scale cell development. In parallel with findings in the peppered moth (Biston betularia), our results suggest that this mechanism is common within Lepidoptera and that cortex has become a major target for natural selection acting on colour and pattern variation in this group of insects.
Project description:Geographical variation in the mimetic wing patterns of the butterfly Heliconius erato is a textbook example of adaptive polymorphism; however, little is known about how this variation is controlled developmentally. Using microarrays and qPCR, we identified and compared expression of candidate genes potentially involved with a red/yellow forewing band polymorphism in H. erato. We found that transcripts encoding the pigment synthesis enzymes cinnabar and vermilion showed pattern- and polymorphism-related expression patterns, respectively. cinnabar expression was associated with the forewing band regardless of pigment colour, providing the first gene expression pattern known to be correlated with a major Heliconius colour pattern. In contrast, vermilion expression changed spatially over time in red-banded butterflies, but was not expressed at detectable levels in yellow-banded butterflies, suggesting that regulation of this gene may be involved with the red/yellow polymorphism. Furthermore, we found that the yellow pigment, 3-hydroxykynurenine, is incorporated into wing scales from the haemolymph rather than being synthesized in situ. We propose that some aspects of Heliconius colour patterns are determined by spatio-temporal overlap of pigment gene transcription prepatterns and speculate that evolutionary changes in vermilion regulation may in part underlie an adaptive colour pattern polymorphism.
Project description:Background: Heliconius butterflies are an excellent model system for studies of adaptive convergent and divergent phenotypic traits. Wing colour patterns are used as signals to both predators and potential mates and are inherited in a Mendelian manner. The underlying genetic mechanisms of pattern formation have been studied for many years and shed light on broad issues, such as the repeatability of evolution. In Heliconius melpomene, the yellow hindwing bar is controlled by the HmYb locus and several genes in this region show expression pattern differences across races. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression that have key roles in many biological processes, including development. It seems likely that miRNAs could act as downstream regulators of genes involved in wing development, patterning and pigmentation. For this reason we characterised miRNAs in developing butterfly wings and examined differences in their expression between colour pattern races. Results: We sequenced small RNA libraries from two colour pattern races and detected 142 Heliconius miRNAs with homology to others found in miRBase. Several highly abundant miRNAs appeared to be differentially expressed between colour pattern races and this was tested further in different developing pupal wing stages using Northern blots. These revealed that differences in expression were due to developmental stage rather than colour pattern. Assembly of sequenced reads to the HmYb region identified miR-193 and miR-2788; located 2380bp apart in an intergenic region. A search for miRNAs in all available H. melpomene BAC sequences (~2.5Mb) did not reveal any other miRNA genes and no novel miRNAs were predicted. There were several regions where other small RNA sequences assembled to the HmYb region and appeared to be differentially expressed.These might represent other regulatory RNAs. Conclusions: Here we describe the first butterfly miRNAs and characterise their expression in developing wings. Some show differences in expression across developing pupal stages. Two miRNAs were located in the HmYb region. Future work will examine the expression of these miRNAs in different colour pattern races and identify miRNA targets among wing patterning genes. High-throughput sequencing of Heliconius melpomene endogenous small RNAs. Size fractionated small RNA from total RNA extracts of two different Heliconius melpomene races (Heliconius melpomene melpomene and Heliconius melpomene rosina) were isolated from wing tissue using miRVana kit. 100Âµg RNA from 11 individuals of different developmental stages was pooled for each race as follows: 4.1% larval stage <1; 2% larval stage 1-1.75; 2.9% larval stage 2-2.5; 22% larval stage 2.75-3; 19% larval stage > 3; 25% early pupae; 25% mid-melanin pupae. Sequences were ligated to adapters, purified again and reverse transcribed. After PCR amplification the sample was subjected to Solexa/Illumina high throughput pyrosequencing. Please see www.illumina.com for details of the sequencing technology.