Evidence for deep regulatory similarities in early developmental programs across highly diverged insects

Majid Kazemian, Kushal Suryamohan, Jia Yu Chen, Yinan Zhang, Md Abul Hassan Samee, Marc S. Halfon, Saurabh Sinha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many genes familiar from Drosophila development, such as the so-called gap, pair-rule, and segment polarity genes, play important roles in the development of other insects and in many cases appear to be deployed in a similar fashion, despite the fact that Drosophilalike "long germband" development is highly derived and confined to a subset of insect families. Whether or not these similarities extend to the regulatory level is unknown. Identification of regulatory regions beyond the well-studied Drosophila has been challenging as even within the Diptera (flies, including mosquitoes) regulatory sequences have diverged past the point of recognition by standardalignment methods. Here, we demonstrate that methods wepreviously developed forcomputationalcis-regulatory module (CRM) discovery in Drosophila can be used effectively in highly diverged (250-350 Myr) insect species including Anopheles gambiae, Tribolium castaneum, Apis mellifera, and Nasonia vitripennis. In Drosophila, we have successfully used small sets of known CRMs as "training data" to guide the search for other CRMs with related function. We show here that although species-specific CRM training data do not exist, training sets from Drosophila can facilitate CRM discovery in diverged insects. We validate in vivo over a dozen new CRMs, roughly doubling the number of known CRMs in the four non-Drosophila species. Given the growing wealth of Drosophila CRM annotation, these results suggest that extensive regulatory sequence annotation will be possible in newly sequenced insects without recourse to costly and labor-intensive genome-scale experiments. We develop a new method, Regulus, which computes a probabilistic score of similarity based on binding site composition (despite the absence of nucleotide-level sequence alignment), and demonstrate similarity between functionally related CRMs from orthologous loci. Our work represents an important step toward being able to trace the evolutionary history of gene regulatory networks and defining the mechanisms underlying insect evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2301-2320
Number of pages20
JournalGenome biology and evolution
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2014


  • Alignment free enhancer prediction
  • Cross species enhancer discovery
  • Regulatory modules in diverged insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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