Genetic basis of stage-specific melanism: a putative role for a cysteine sulfinic acid decarboxylase in insect pigmentation

Heredity (Edinb). 2012 Jun;108(6):594-601. doi: 10.1038/hdy.2011.127. Epub 2012 Jan 11.


Melanism, the overall darkening of the body, is a widespread form of animal adaptation to particular environments, and includes bookcase examples of evolution by natural selection, such as industrial melanism in the peppered moth. The major components of the melanin biosynthesis pathway have been characterized in model insects, but little is known about the genetic basis of life-stage specific melanism such as cases described in some lepidopteran species. Here, we investigate two melanic mutations of Bicyclus anynana butterflies, called Chocolate and melanine, that exclusively affect pigmentation of the larval and adult stages, respectively. Our analysis of Mendelian segregation patterns reveals that the larval and adult melanic phenotypes are due to alleles at different, independently segregating loci. Our linkage mapping analysis excludes the pigmentation candidate gene black as the melanine locus, and implicates a gene encoding a putative pyridoxal phosphate-dependant cysteine sulfinic acid decarboxylase as the Chocolate locus. We show variation in coding sequence and in expression levels for this candidate larval melanism locus. This is the first study that suggests a biological function for this gene in insects. Our findings open up exciting opportunities to study the role of this locus in the evolution of adaptive variation in pigmentation, and the uncoupling of regulation of pigment biosynthesis across developmental stages with different ecologies and pressures on body coloration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Butterflies / enzymology*
  • Butterflies / genetics
  • Butterflies / metabolism
  • Carboxy-Lyases / genetics*
  • Carboxy-Lyases / metabolism*
  • Melanins / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phenotype
  • Pigmentation / genetics*
  • Selection, Genetic


  • Melanins
  • Carboxy-Lyases
  • sulfoalanine decarboxylase

Associated data

  • GENBANK/JN003848
  • GENBANK/JN003849
  • GENBANK/JN003850