Optix Drives the Repeated Convergent Evolution of Butterfly Wing Pattern Mimicry

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  21 Jul 2011:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1208227


Mimicry where warning signals in different species evolve to look similar has long served as a paradigm of convergent evolution. However, little is known about the genes that underlie the evolution of mimetic phenotypes nor to what extent the same or different genes drive such convergent evolution. Here, we characterize one of the major genes that controls mimetic wing pattern evolution in Heliconius butterflies. Mapping, gene expression, and population genetic work all identify a single gene, optix, that controls radically variable red wing patterns across multiple species of Heliconius. Our results show that the cis-regulatory evolution of a single transcription factor can repeatedly drive the convergent evolution of complex color patterns in distantly related species, thus blurring the distinction between convergence and homology.