A highly pleiotropic amino acid polymorphism in the Drosophila insulin receptor contributes to life-history adaptation

Evolution. 2014 Dec;68(12):3395-409. doi: 10.1111/evo.12546. Epub 2014 Nov 20.


Finding the specific nucleotides that underlie adaptive variation is a major goal in evolutionary biology, but polygenic traits pose a challenge because the complex genotype-phenotype relationship can obscure the effects of individual alleles. However, natural selection working in large wild populations can shift allele frequencies and indicate functional regions of the genome. Previously, we showed that the two most common alleles of a complex amino acid insertion-deletion polymorphism in the Drosophila insulin receptor show independent, parallel clines in frequency across the North American and Australian continents. Here, we report that the cline is stable over at least a five-year period and that the polymorphism also demonstrates temporal shifts in allele frequency concurrent with seasonal change. We tested the alleles for effects on levels of insulin signaling, fecundity, development time, body size, stress tolerance, and life span. We find that the alleles are associated with predictable differences in these traits, consistent with patterns of Drosophila life-history variation across geography that likely reflect adaptation to the heterogeneous climatic environment. These results implicate insulin signaling as a major mediator of life-history adaptation in Drosophila, and suggest that life-history trade-offs can be explained by extensive pleiotropy at a single locus.

Keywords: Adaptation; InR; cline; pleiotropy; seasonality.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Amino Acids / genetics
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Body Size
  • Drosophila / genetics*
  • Drosophila / growth & development
  • Drosophila / metabolism
  • Drosophila / physiology
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics*
  • Fertility
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetic Loci
  • Genetic Pleiotropy*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / genetics*
  • Seasons
  • Signal Transduction


  • Amino Acids
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • InR protein, Drosophila
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases