Color pattern variation in the Common Mormon Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio polytes.

We have extended our research on Heliconius to explore the genetic basis of mimicry in a diversity of butterfly species, including one particularly long-lived mystery of evolutionary genetics—the molecular basis of ‘supergene’ mimicry. Using an integrative approach combining genetic and association mapping, transcriptome and genome sequencing, and gene expression analyses, we found that a single gene, doublesex (dsx), controls supergene mimicry in Papilio polytes. This is in contrast to the long-held view that supergenes are likely to be controlled by a tightly linked cluster of loci. Our results ultimately fuse two different hypotheses for the identity of supergenes, showing that a single gene can switch the entire wing pattern among mimicry phenotypes but may require multiple, tightly linked mutations to do so. Our work on supergene mimicry is now expanding along multiple fronts, with particular focus on functional mechanisms in Papilio polytes and comparative genomics across species.

Selected Publications

VanKuren, N. W., S. I. Sheikh, D. Massardo, W. Lu and M. R. Kronforst. 2024. Supergene evolution via gain of auto-regulation.

VanKuren, N. W., M. M. Doellman, S. I. Sheikh, D. H. Palmer Droguett, D. Massardo and M. R. Kronforst. 2023. Acute and long-term consequences of co-opted doublesex on the development of mimetic butterfly color patterns. Molecular Biology and Evolution 40: msad196. bioRxiv preprint

Sheikh, S. I., N. W. VanKuren and M. R. Kronforst. 2023. Butterfly mimicry rings run in circles. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 120: e2220680120.

VanKuren, N., M. M. Doellman, S. I. Sheikh, D. H. Palmer Droguett, D. Massardo and M. R. Kronforst. 2022. Conserved signaling pathways antagonize and synergize with co-opted doublesex to control development of novel mimetic butterfly wing patterns. bioRxiv 2022.09.20.508752. bioRxiv preprint


Palmer, D. H. and M. R. Kronforst. 2020. A shared genetic basis of mimicry across swallowtail butterflies points to ancestral co-option of doublesex. Nature Communications 11: 6.

Palmer, D. H., Y. Q. Tan, S. D. Finkbeiner, A. D. Briscoe, A. Monteiro and M. R. Kronforst. 2018. Experimental field tests of Batesian mimicry in the swallowtail butterfly Papilio polytes. Ecology and Evolution 8: 7657-7666.

Zhang, W., E. Westerman, E. Nitzany, S. Palmer and M. R. Kronforst. 2017. Tracing the origin and evolution of supergene mimicry in butterflies. 2017. Nature Communications 8: 1269.  UChicago ScienceLife  Seeker

Kunte, K., W. Zhang, A. Tenger-Trolander, D. H. Palmer, A. Martin, R. D. Reed, S. P. Mullen and M. R. Kronforst. 2014.  doublesex is a mimicry supergene.  Nature 507: 229-232.  Nature News & Views  Nature News  Science magazine  NY Times  LA Times  University of Chicago  F1000 Opinions