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  1. Despite insertions and deletions being the most common structural variants (SVs) found across genomes, not much is known about how much these SVs vary within populations and between closely related species, nor their significance in evolution. To address these questions, we characterized the evolution of indel SVs using genome assemblies of three closely related Heliconius butterfly species. Over the relatively short evolutionary timescales investigated, up to 18.0% of the genome was composed of indels between two haplotypes of an individual H. charithonia butterfly and up to 62.7% included lineage-specific SVs between the genomes of the most distant species (11 Mya). Lineage-specific sequences were mostly characterized as transposable elements (TEs) inserted at random throughout the genome and their overall distribution was similarly affected by linked selection as single nucleotide substitutions. Using chromatin accessibility profiles (i.e., ATAC-seq) of head tissue in caterpillars to identify sequences with potential cis-regulatory function, we found that out of the 31,066 identified differences in chromatin accessibility between species, 30.4% were within lineage-specific SVs and 9.4% were characterized as TE insertions. These TE insertions were localized closer to gene transcription start sites than expected at random and were enriched for several transcription factor binding site candidates with knownmore »function in neuron development in Drosophila. We also identified 24 TE insertions with head-specific chromatin accessibility. Our results show high rates of structural genome evolution that were previously overlooked in comparative genomic studies and suggest a high potential for structural variation to serve as raw material for adaptive evolution.« less
  2. True, John (Ed.)
    Abstract Sexually dimorphic development is responsible for some of the most remarkable phenotypic variation found in nature. Alternative splicing of the transcription factor gene doublesex (dsx) is a highly conserved developmental switch controlling the expression of sex-specific pathways. Here, we leverage sex-specific differences in butterfly wing color pattern to characterize the genetic basis of sexually dimorphic development. We use RNA-seq, immunolocalization, and motif binding site analysis to test specific predictions about the role of dsx in the development of structurally based ultraviolet (UV) wing patterns in Zerene cesonia (Southern Dogface). Unexpectedly, we discover a novel duplication of dsx that shows a sex-specific burst of expression associated with the sexually dimorphic UV coloration. The derived copy consists of a single exon that encodes a DNA binding but no protein-binding domain and has experienced rapid amino-acid divergence. We propose the novel dsx paralog may suppress UV scale differentiation in females, which is supported by an excess of Dsx-binding sites at cytoskeletal and chitin-related genes with sex-biased expression. These findings illustrate the molecular flexibility of the dsx gene in mediating the differentiation of secondary sexual characteristics.
  3. Abstract Many animal species remain separate not because their individuals fail to produce viable hybrids but because they “choose” not to mate. However, we still know very little of the genetic mechanisms underlying changes in these mate preference behaviours. Heliconius butterflies display bright warning patterns, which they also use to recognize conspecifics. Here, we couple QTL for divergence in visual preference behaviours with population genomic and gene expression analyses of neural tissue (central brain, optic lobes and ommatidia) across development in two sympatric Heliconius species. Within a region containing 200 genes, we identify five genes that are strongly associated with divergent visual preferences. Three of these have previously been implicated in key components of neural signalling (specifically an ionotropic glutamate receptor and two regucalcins ), and overall our candidates suggest shifts in behaviour involve changes in visual integration or processing. This would allow preference evolution without altering perception of the wider environment.
  4. Characterizing the genetic complexity of adaptation and trait evolution is a major emphasis of evolutionary biology and genetics. Incongruent findings from genetic studies have resulted in conceptual models ranging from a few large-effect loci to massively polygenic architectures. Here, we combine chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing, Hi-C, RNA sequencing, and 40 whole-genome sequences from Heliconius butterflies to show that red color pattern diversification occurred via many genomic loci. We find that the red wing pattern master regulatory transcription factor Optix binds dozens of loci also under selection, which frequently form three-dimensional adaptive hubs with selection acting on multiple physically interacting genes. Many Optix-bound genes under selection are tied to pigmentation and wing development, and these loci collectively maintain separation between adaptive red color pattern phenotypes in natural populations. We propose a model of trait evolution where functional connections between loci may resolve much of the disparity between large-effect and polygenic evolutionary models.
  5. Müllerian mimicry strongly exemplifies the power of natural selection. However, the exact measure of such adaptive phenotypic convergence and the possible causes of its imperfection often remain unidentified. Here, we first quantify wing colour pattern differences in the forewing region of 14 co-mimetic colour pattern morphs of the butterfly species Heliconius erato and Heliconius melpomene and measure the extent to which mimicking colour pattern morphs are not perfectly identical. Next, using gene-editing CRISPR/Cas9 KO experiments of the gene WntA , which has been mapped to colour pattern diversity in these butterflies, we explore the exact areas of the wings in which WntA affects colour pattern formation differently in H. erato and H. melpomene. We find that, while the relative size of the forewing pattern is generally nearly identical between co-mimics, the CRISPR/Cas9 KO results highlight divergent boundaries in the wing that prevent the co-mimics from achieving perfect mimicry. We suggest that this mismatch may be explained by divergence in the gene regulatory network that defines wing colour patterning in both species, thus constraining morphological evolution even between closely related species.
  6. Chemosensory communication is essential to insect biology, playing indispensable roles during mate-finding, foraging, and oviposition behaviors. These traits are particularly important during speciation, where chemical perception may serve to establish species barriers. However, identifying genes associated with such complex behavioral traits remains a significant challenge. Through a combination of transcriptomic and genomic approaches, we characterize the genetic architecture of chemoperception and the role of chemosensing during speciation for a young species pair of Heliconius butterflies, Heliconius melpomene and Heliconius cydno . We provide a detailed description of chemosensory gene-expression profiles as they relate to sensory tissue (antennae, legs, and mouthparts), sex (male and female), and life stage (unmated and mated female butterflies). Our results untangle the potential role of chemical communication in establishing barriers during speciation and identify strong candidate genes for mate and host plant choice behaviors. Of the 252 chemosensory genes, HmOBP20 (involved in volatile detection) and HmGr56 (a putative synephrine-related receptor) emerge as strong candidates for divergence in pheromone detection and host plant discrimination, respectively. These two genes are not physically linked to wing-color pattern loci or other genomic regions associated with visual mate preference. Altogether, our results provide evidence for chemosensory divergence between H. melpomene andmore »H. cydno , two rarely hybridizing butterflies with distinct mate and host plant preferences, a finding that supports a polygenic architecture of species boundaries.« less