The maintenance of polymorphism in an ancient social supergene

Jessica Purcell, German Lagunas-Robles, Christian Rabeling, Marek L. Borowiec, Alan Brelsford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Supergenes, regions of the genome with suppressed recombination between sets of functional mutations, contribute to the evolution of complex phenotypes in diverse systems. Excluding sex chromosomes, most supergenes discovered so far appear to be young, being found in one species or a few closely related species. Here, we investigate how a chromosome harbouring an ancient supergene has evolved over about 30 million years (Ma). The Formica supergene underlies variation in colony queen number in at least five species. We expand previous analyses of sequence divergence on this chromosome to encompass about 90 species spanning the Formica phylogeny. Within the nonrecombining region, the gene knockout contains 22 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are consistently differentiated between two alternative supergene haplotypes in divergent European Formica species, and we show that these same SNPs are present in most Formica clades. In these clades, including an early diverging Nearctic Formica clade, individuals with alternative genotypes at knockout also have higher differentiation in other portions of this chromosome. We identify hotspots of SNPs along this chromosome that are present in multiple Formica clades to detect genes that may have contributed to the emergence and maintenance of the genetic polymorphism. Finally, we infer three gene duplications on one haplotype, based on apparent heterozygosity within these genes in the genomes of haploid males. This study strengthens the evidence that this supergene originated early in the evolution of Formica and that just a few loci in this large region of suppressed recombination retain strongly differentiated alleles across contemporary Formica lineages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6246-6258
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • coadapted gene complex
  • formicinae
  • gene flux
  • suppressed recombination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'The maintenance of polymorphism in an ancient social supergene'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this