Major Improvements to the Heliconius melpomene Genome Assembly Used to Confirm 10 Chromosome Fusion Events in 6 Million Years of Butterfly Evolution

The Heliconius butterflies are a widely studied adaptive radiation of 46 species spread across Central and South America, several of which are known to hybridize in the wild. Here, we present a substantially improved assembly of the Heliconius melpomene genome, developed using novel methods that should be applicable to improving other genome assemblies produced using short read sequencing. First, we whole-genome-sequenced a pedigree to produce a linkage map incorporating 99% of the genome. Second, we incorporated haplotype scaffolds extensively to produce a more complete haploid version of the draft genome. Third, we incorporated ∼20x coverage of Pacific Biosciences sequencing, and scaffolded the haploid genome using an assembly of this long-read sequence. These improvements result in a genome of 795 scaffolds, 275 Mb in length, with an N50 length of 2.1 Mb, an N50 number of 34, and with 99% of the genome placed, and 84% anchored on chromosomes. We use the new genome assembly to confirm that the Heliconius genome underwent 10 chromosome fusions since the split with its sister genus Eueides, over a period of about 6 million yr.

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