Deep cis-regulatory homology of the butterfly wing pattern ground plan

Science. 2022 Oct 21;378(6617):304-308. doi: 10.1126/science.abi9407. Epub 2022 Oct 20.


Butterfly wing patterns derive from a deeply conserved developmental ground plan yet are diverse and evolve rapidly. It is poorly understood how gene regulatory architectures can accommodate both deep homology and adaptive change. To address this, we characterized the cis-regulatory evolution of the color pattern gene WntA in nymphalid butterflies. Comparative assay for transposase-accessible chromatin using sequencing (ATAC-seq) and in vivo deletions spanning 46 cis-regulatory elements across five species revealed deep homology of ground plan-determining sequences, except in monarch butterflies. Furthermore, noncoding deletions displayed both positive and negative regulatory effects that were often broad in nature. Our results provide little support for models predicting rapid enhancer turnover and suggest that deeply ancestral, multifunctional noncoding elements can underlie rapidly evolving trait systems.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning* / genetics
  • Butterflies* / genetics
  • Butterflies* / growth & development
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Genetic Loci
  • Pigmentation* / genetics
  • Wings, Animal* / anatomy & histology
  • Wings, Animal* / growth & development

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.8cz8w9gpr