September 22, 2019  |  

A homeobox gene, BarH-1, underlies a female alternative life-history strategy

Authors: Woronik, Alyssa and Tunstr?m, Kalle and Perry, Michael W. and Neethiraj, Ramprasad and Stefanescu, Constanti and de la Paz Celorio-Mancera, Maria and Brattstr?m, Oskar and Hill, Jason and Lehmann, Philipp and Käkelä, Reijo and Wheat, Christopher W.

Colias butterflies (the “clouded sulphurs”) often occur in mixed populations where females exhibit two color morphs, yellow/orange or white. White females, known as the Alba morph, reallocate resources from the synthesis of costly colored pigments to reproductive and somatic development 1. Due to this tradeoff Alba females develop faster and have higher fecundity than orange females 2. However orange females, that have instead invested in pigments, are preferred by males who in turn provide a nutrient rich spermatophore during mating 2,3,4. Thus the wing color morphs represent alternative life history strategies (ALHS) that are female-limited, wherein tradeoffs, due to divergent resource investment, result in distinct phenotypes with associated fitness consequences. Here we map the genetic basis of Alba in Colias crocea to a transposable element insertion downstream of the Colias homolog of BarH-1. To investigate the phenotypic effects of this insertion we use CRISPR/Cas9 to validate BarH-1’s functional role in the wing color switch and antibody staining to confirm expression differences in the scale building cells of pupal wings. We then use scanning electron microscopy to determine that BarH-1 expression in the wings causes a reduction in pigment granules within wing scales, and thereby gives rise to the white color. Finally, lipid and transcriptome analyses reveal additional physiological differences that arise due to Alba, suggesting pleiotropic effects beyond wing color. Together these findings provide the first well documented mechanism for a female ALHS and support an alternative view of color polymorphism as indicative of pleiotropic effects with life history consequences.

Journal: BioRxiv
DOI: 10.1101/424879
Year: 2018

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