Adaptive evolution of color vision as seen through the eyes of butterflies

Francesca Frentiu, Gary Bernard, Cristina Cuevas, Marilou Sison-Mangus, Kathleen Prudic, Adriana Briscoe

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Butterflies and primates are interesting for comparative color vision studies, because both have evolved middle- (M) and long-wavelength- (L) sensitive photopigments with overlapping absorbance spectrum maxima (lambda(max) values). Although positive selection is important for the maintenance of spectral variation within the primate pigments, it remains an open question whether it contributes similarly to the diversification of butterfly pigments. To examine this issue, we performed epimicrospectrophotometry on the eyes of five Limenitis butterfly species and found a 31-nm range of variation in the lambda(max) values of the L-sensitive photopigments (514-545 nm). We cloned partial Limenitis L opsin gene sequences and found a significant excess of replacement substitutions relative to polymorphisms among species. Mapping of these L photopigment lambda max values onto a phylogeny revealed two instances within Lepidoptera of convergently evolved L photopigment lineages whose lambda(max) values were blue-shifted. A codon-based maximum-likelihood analysis indicated that, associated with the two blue spectral shifts, four amino acid sites (Ile17Met, Ala64Ser, Asn70Ser, and Ser137Ala) have evolved substitutions in parallel and exhibit significant d(N)/d(S) > 1. Homology modeling of the full-length Limenitis arthemis astyanax L opsin placed all four substitutions within the chromophore-binding pocket. Strikingly, the Ser137Ala substitution is in the same position as a site that in primates is responsible for a 5- to 7-nm blue spectral shift our that some of the same amino acid sites are under positive selection in the photopigments of both butterflies and primates, spanning an evolutionary distance > 500 million years.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8634 - 8640
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

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