Extensive transcriptomic profiling of pupal diapause in a butterfly reveals a dynamic phenotype

Mol Ecol. 2021 Dec 4. doi: 10.1111/mec.16304. Online ahead of print.


Diapause is a common adaptation for overwintering in insects that is characterized by arrested development and increased tolerance to stress and cold. While the expression of specific candidate genes during diapause have been investigated, there is no general understanding of the dynamics of the transcriptional landscape as a whole during the extended diapause phenotype. Such a detailed temporal insight is important as diapause is a vital aspect of life cycle timing. Here, we performed a time-course experiment using RNA-Seq on the head and abdomen in the butterfly Pieris napi. In both body parts, comparing diapausing and nondiapausing siblings, differentially expressed genes are detected from the first day of pupal development and onwards, varying dramatically across these formative stages. During diapause there are strong gene expression dynamics present, revealing a preprogrammed transcriptional landscape that is active during the winter. Different biological processes appear to be active in the two body parts. Finally, adults emerging from either the direct or diapause pathways do not show large transcriptomic differences, suggesting the adult phenotype is strongly canalized.

Keywords: RNA-Seq; diapause; gene expression; lepidoptera; transcriptome dynamics.