Analysis of the genetic loci of pigment pattern evolution in vertebrates.

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Vertebrate pigmentation patterns are amongst the best characterised model systems for studying the genetic basis of adaptive evolution. The wealth of available data on the genetic basis for pigmentation evolution allows for analysis of trends and quantitative testing of evolutionary hypotheses. We employed Gephebase, a database of genetic variants associated with natural and domesticated trait variation, to examine trends in how cis-regulatory and coding mutations contribute to vertebrate pigmentation phenotypes, as well as factors that favour one mutation type over the other. We found that studies with lower ascertainment bias identified higher proportions of cis-regulatory mutations, and that cis-regulatory mutations were more common amongst animals harbouring a higher number of pigment cell classes. We classified pigmentation traits firstly according to their physiological basis and secondly according to whether they affect colour or pattern, and identified that carotenoid-based pigmentation and variation in pattern boundaries are preferentially associated with cis-regulatory change. We also classified genes according to their developmental, cellular, and molecular functions. We found a greater proportion of cis-regulatory mutations in genes implicated in upstream developmental processes compared to those involved in downstream cellular functions, and that ligands were associated with a higher proportion of cis-regulatory mutations than their respective receptors. Based on these trends, we discuss future directions for research in vertebrate pigmentation evolution.

cis-regulatory mutations, coding mutations, development, evolutionary genetics, genetic variation, phenotypic variation, vertebrate pigmentation, Animals, Vertebrates, Genetic Loci, Mutation, Pigmentation, Phenotype
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Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc
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John Templeton Foundation (JTF 43903)
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/R01504X/1)