Sci Adv 9 (12) eabq3713 [2023-03-22; online 2023-03-22]
Understanding the evolutionary origins and factors maintaining alternative life history strategies (ALHS) within species is a major goal of evolutionary research. While alternative alleles causing discrete ALHS are expected to purge or fix over time, one-third of the ~90 species of Colias butterflies are polymorphic for a female-limited ALHS called Alba. Whether Alba arose once, evolved in parallel, or has been exchanged among taxa is currently unknown. Using comparative genome-wide association study (GWAS) and population genomic analyses, we placed the genetic basis of Alba in time-calibrated phylogenomic framework, revealing that Alba evolved once near the base of the genus and has been subsequently maintained via introgression and balancing selection. CRISPR-Cas9 mutagenesis was then used to verify a putative cis-regulatory region of Alba, which we identified using phylogenetic foot printing. We hypothesize that this cis-regulatory region acts as a modular enhancer for the induction of the Alba ALHS, which has likely facilitated its long evolutionary persistence.