Complex modular architecture around a simple toolkit of wing pattern genes


Identifying the genomic changes that control morphological variation and understanding how they generate diversity is a major goal of evolutionary biology. In Heliconius butterflies, a small number of genes control the development of diverse wing colour patterns. Here, we used full-genome sequencing of individuals across the Heliconius erato radiation and closely related species to characterize genomic variation associated with wing pattern diversity. We show that variation around colour pattern genes is highly modular, with narrow genomic intervals associated with specific differences in colour and pattern. This modular architecture explains the diversity of colour patterns and provides a flexible mechanism for rapid morphological diversification.

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Figure 1: Geographical distribution, phylogeny and colour pattern diversity of the Heliconius erato adaptive radiation.
Figure 2: Genomic divergence across the Heliconius erato phenotypic transition zones.
Figure 3: Association mapping in hybrid zones and phylogenetic comparisons identify the modular genetic architecture of black forewing variation.
Figure 4: Modular architecture of red pattern variation.
Figure 5: Independent modules generate convergent yellow hindwing bar phenotypes.
Figure 6: Modular regulatory architecture characterizes colour pattern diversity within the Heliconius erato radiation.


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We thank A. Tapia for maintaining the H. erato genome line and for generating our mapping family, and M. Vargas and C. Rosales for Illumina library preparation. We acknowledge the University of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico INBRE grant P20 GM103475 from the National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH); CNRS Nouraugues and CEBA awards (B.A.C.); National Science Foundation awards DEB-1257839 (B.A.C.), DEB-1257689 (W.O.M.), DEB-1027019 (W.O.M.); awards 1010094 and 1002410 from the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) for computational resources; and the Smithsonian Institution. This research was supported in part by Lilly Endowment, Inc., through its support for the Indiana University Pervasive Technology Institute, and in part by the Indiana METACyt Initiative. The Indiana METACyt Initiative at IU is also supported in part by Lilly Endowment, Inc.

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S.M.V.B., B.A.C., W.O.M. and R.P. designed the study and wrote the paper. P.R., A.P. and J.J.M. conducted genome assembly. P.R. conducted linkage map and genome quality assessment. A.P. conducted genome annotation. S.M.V.B. conducted population genomic, phylogenetic and comparative genomic analyses. M.R, M.A.S, H.H. and J.J.H. conducted comparative genomic analyses. S.H.M. contributed scripts for Twisst analyses. B.A.C., W.O.M., R.P., H.H., C.D.J., J.M., M.L., C.S., C.F.A. and G.M. collected samples for sequencing.

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Correspondence to Steven M. Van Belleghem.

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Van Belleghem, S., Rastas, P., Papanicolaou, A. et al. Complex modular architecture around a simple toolkit of wing pattern genes. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 0052 (2017).

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