Optix Drives the Repeated Convergent Evolution of Butterfly Wing Pattern Mimicry

Science. 2011 Aug 26;333(6046):1137-41. doi: 10.1126/science.1208227. Epub 2011 Jul 21.


Mimicry--whereby warning signals in different species evolve to look similar--has long served as a paradigm of convergent evolution. Little is known, however, about the genes that underlie the evolution of mimetic phenotypes or to what extent the same or different genes drive such convergence. Here, we characterize one of the major genes responsible for mimetic wing pattern evolution in Heliconius butterflies. Mapping, gene expression, and population genetic work all identify a single gene, optix, that controls extreme red wing pattern variation across multiple species of Heliconius. Our results show that the cis-regulatory evolution of a single transcription factor can repeatedly drive the convergent evolution of complex color patterns in distantly related species, thus blurring the distinction between convergence and homology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Butterflies / anatomy & histology
  • Butterflies / genetics*
  • Butterflies / growth & development
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Genes, Insect*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome, Insect
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Insect Proteins / genetics*
  • Linkage Disequilibrium
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Moths / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Pigmentation / genetics*
  • Regulatory Elements, Transcriptional
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Species Specificity
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology*
  • Wings, Animal / growth & development


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Insect Proteins
  • Transcription Factors

Associated data

  • GENBANK/JN102349
  • GENBANK/JN102350
  • GENBANK/JN102351
  • GENBANK/JN102352
  • GENBANK/JN102353
  • GENBANK/JN102354
  • GEO/GSE30221