Conserved developmental processes and the formation of evolutionary novelties: examples from butterfly wings

Suzanne V. Saenko, Vernon French, Paul M. Brakefield, Patricia Beldade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The origin and diversification of evolutionary novelties - lineage-specific traits of new adaptive value - is one of the key issues in evolutionary developmental biology. However, comparative analysis of the genetic and developmental bases of such traits can be difficult when they have no obvious homologue in model organisms. The finding that the evolution of morphological novelties often involves the recruitment of pre-existing genes and/or gene networks offers the potential to overcome this challenge. Knowledge about shared developmental processes obtained from extensive studies in model organisms can then be used to understand the origin and diversification of lineage-specific structures. Here, we illustrate this approach in relation to eyespots on the wings of Bicyclus anynana butterflies. A number of spontaneous mutations isolated in the laboratory affect eyespots, lepidopteran-specific features, and also processes that are shared by most insects. We discuss how eyespot mutants with disturbed embryonic development may help elucidate the genetic pathways involved in eyespot formation, and how venation mutants with altered eyespot patterns might shed light on mechanisms of eyespot development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1549-1555
Number of pages7
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1496
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2008

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