Research Highlight: Clark Lab

butterfly

Their model species, Pieris rapae

The Clark Lab, alongside the Morehouse Lab (Department of Biological Sciences), have been using the the bursa copulatrix as a model to research the mechanisms that equip an entire organ with its characteristic physiological functions.

Digestive Organ in the Female Reproductive Tract Borrows Genes from Multiple Organ Systems to Adopt Critical Functions

Camille Meslin1, Melissa S. Plakke2, Aaron B. Deutsch2, Brandon S. Small1, Nathan I. Morehouse2*, Nathan L. Clark1*
1 Department of Computational and Systems Biology, University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA
2 Department of Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Abstract: “The origin of novel organismal traits is a critical question in evolutionary biology. While different studies have revealed mechanisms by which novel morphological or physiological traits have evolved, the mechanisms that equip an entire organ with its characteristic physiological functions are relatively unknown. We have addressed this question by using the bursa copulatrix as a model. The bursa copulatrix is a very unique organ within the female reproductive tract in butterflies and moths that processes the male spermatophore, a nuptial gift that provides the female with nutrition. Using gene expression from 9 tissues across 2 developmental stages and phylogenetic analyses, we revealed that the bursa borrowed genes from non-reproductive tissues to gain muscular and digestive functions, transforming it into a stomach-like organ within the reproductive tract. We also showed the bursa responds to spermatophore deposition by altering its gene expression pattern. Finally, we identified bursa-specific genes that may provide novel bursa-specific functions. Overall, our work provides critical insight into female reproductive traits and genetic mechanisms that may be used to equip an organ with its physiological functions.”