Chromosome-Level Assemblies of the Pieris mannii Butterfly Genome Suggest Z-Origin and Rapid Evolution of the W Chromosome

Genome Biol Evol. 2023 Jun 1;15(6):evad111. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evad111.


The insect order Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) represents the largest group of organisms with ZW/ZZ sex determination. While the origin of the Z chromosome predates the evolution of the Lepidoptera, the W chromosomes are considered younger, but their origin is debated. To shed light on the origin of the lepidopteran W, we here produce chromosome-level genome assemblies for the butterfly Pieris mannii and compare the sex chromosomes within and between P. mannii and its sister species Pieris rapae. Our analyses clearly indicate a common origin of the W chromosomes of the two Pieris species and reveal similarity between the Z and W in chromosome sequence and structure. This supports the view that the W in these species originates from Z-autosome fusion rather than from a redundant B chromosome. We further demonstrate the extremely rapid evolution of the W relative to the other chromosomes and argue that this may preclude reliable conclusions about the origins of W chromosomes based on comparisons among distantly related Lepidoptera. Finally, we find that sequence similarity between the Z and W chromosomes is greatest toward the chromosome ends, perhaps reflecting selection for the maintenance of recognition sites essential to chromosome segregation. Our study highlights the utility of long-read sequencing technology for illuminating chromosome evolution.

Keywords: Lepidoptera; genome assembly; homology; long-read sequencing; sequence alignment; sex chromosome.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Butterflies* / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome
  • Moths* / genetics
  • Sex Chromosomes / genetics

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.1vhhmgqwx