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Genome-wide analysis of ionotropic receptors provides insight into their evolution in Heliconius butterflies.

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Jiggins, Chris D 
Briscoe, Adriana D 
Papa, Riccardo 


BACKGROUND: In a world of chemical cues, smell and taste are essential senses for survival. Here we focused on Heliconius, a diverse group of butterflies that exhibit variation in pre- and post-zygotic isolation and chemically-mediated behaviors across their phylogeny. Our study examined the ionotropic receptors, a recently discovered class of receptors that are some of the most ancient chemical receptors. RESULTS: We found more ionotropic receptors in Heliconius (31) than in Bombyx mori (25) or in Danaus plexippus (27). Sixteen genes in Lepidoptera were not present in Diptera. Only IR7d4 was exclusively found in butterflies and two expansions of IR60a were exclusive to Heliconius. A genome-wide comparison between 11 Heliconius species revealed instances of pseudogenization, gene gain, and signatures of positive selection across the phylogeny. IR60a2b and IR60a2d are unique to the H. melpomene, H. cydno, and H. timareta clade, a group where chemosensing is likely involved in pre-zygotic isolation. IR60a2b also displayed copy number variations (CNVs) in distinct populations of H. melpomene and was the only gene significantly higher expressed in legs and mouthparts than in antennae, which suggests a gustatory function. dN/dS analysis suggests more frequent positive selection in some intronless IR genes and in particular in the sara/sapho and melpomene/cydno/timareta clades. IR60a1 was the only gene with an elevated dN/dS along a major phylogenetic branch associated with pupal mating. Only IR93a was differentially expressed between sexes. CONCLUSIONS: All together these data make Heliconius butterflies one of the very few insects outside Drosophila where IRs have been characterized in detail. Our work outlines a dynamic pattern of IR gene evolution throughout the Heliconius radiation which could be the result of selective pressure to find potential mates or host-plants.



Butterfly, Chemosensory receptors, Gustation, Lepidoptera, Olfaction, Smell, Speciation, Taste, Animals, Biological Evolution, Butterflies, DNA Copy Number Variations, Female, Genes, Insect, Male, Phylogeny, Receptors, Ionotropic Glutamate, Selection, Genetic

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BMC Genomics

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
This project is funded by a NASA grant (NNX10AM80H and NNX07AO30A) to RP, a NSF-DEB 1257839 to RP, NSF cooperative agreement DBI-0939454 to ADB, and a BBSRC grant H01439X and ERC grant ‘SpeciationGenetics’ to CDJ.