Journal Article

Macroevolutionary shifts of WntA function potentiate butterfly wing-pattern diversity


Butterfly wing patterns provide a rich comparative framework to study how morphological complexity develops and evolves. Here we used CRISPR/Cas9 somatic mutagenesis to test a patterning role for WntA, a signaling ligand gene previously identified as a hotspot of shape-tuning alleles involved in wing mimicry. We show that WntA loss-of-function causes multiple modifications of pattern elements in seven nymphalid butterfly species. In three butterflies with a conserved wing-pattern arrangement, WntA is necessary for the induction of stripe-like patterns known as symmetry systems and acquired a novel eyespot activator role specific to Vanessa forewings. In two Heliconius species, WntA specifies the boundaries between melanic fields and the light-color patterns that they contour. In the passionvine butterfly Agraulis, WntA removal shows opposite effects on adjacent pattern elements, revealing a dual role across the wing field. Finally, WntA acquired a divergent role in the patterning of interveinous patterns in the monarch, a basal nymphalid butterfly that lacks stripe-like symmetry systems. These results identify WntA as an instructive signal for the prepatterning of a biological system of exuberant diversity and illustrate how shifts in the deployment and effects of a single developmental gene underlie morphological change.

Attached files


Mazo-Vargas, Anyi
Concha, Carolina
Livraghi, Luca
Massardo, Darli
Wallbank, Richard W.R.
Zhang, Linlin
Papador, Joseph D.
Martinez-Najera, Daniel
Jiggins, Chris D.
Kronforst, Marcus R.
Breuker, Casper J.
Reed, Robert D.
Patel, Nipam H.
McMillan, W. Owen
Martin, Arnaud

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences\Department of Biological and Medical Sciences


Year of publication: 2017
Date of RADAR deposit: 2017-09-26

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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