The BTB-ZF gene Bm-mamo regulate pigmentation in caterpillars

  1. State Key Laboratory of Resource Insects, Southwest University, Chongqing 400715, China
  2. College of Serculture, Textile and Biomass Sciences, Southwest University, Chongqing 400715, China


  • Reviewing Editor
    Virginie Courtier-Orgogozo
    CNRS - Université Paris Cité, France
  • Senior Editor
    Claude Desplan
    New York University, United States of America

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

Summary: This paper performs fine-mapping of the silkworm mutants bd and its fertile allelic version, bdf, narrowing down the causal intervals to a small interval of a handful of genes. In this region, the gene orthologous to mamo is impaired by a large indel, and its function is later confirmed using expression profiling, RNAi, and CRISPR KO. All these experiments are convincingly showing that mamo is necessary for the suppression of melanic pigmentation in the silkworm larval integument.

The authors also use in silico and in vitro assays to probe the potential effector genes that mamo may regulate.

Strengths: The genotype-to-phenotype workflow, combining forward (mapping) and reverse genetics (RNAi and CRISPR loss-of-function assays) linking mamo to pigmentation are extremely convincing.


  1. The last section of the results, entitled "Downstream target gene analysis" is primarily based on in silico genome-wide binding motif predictions.
    While the authors identify a potential binding site using EMSA, it is unclear how much this general approach over-predicted potential targets. While I think this work is interesting, its potential caveats are not mentioned. In fact the Discussion section seems to trust the high number of target genes as a reliable result. Specifically, the authors correctly say: "even if there are some transcription factor-binding sites in a gene, the gene is not necessarily regulated by these factors in a specific tissue and period", but then propose a biological explanation that not all binding sites are relevant to expression control. This makes a radical short-cut that predicted binding sites are actual in vivo binding sites. This may not be true, as I'd expect that only a subset of binding motifs predicted by Positional Weight Matrices (PWM) are real in vivo binding sites with a ChIP-seq or Cut-and-Run signal. This is particularly problematic for PWM that feature only 5-nt signature motifs, as inferred here for mamo-S and mamo-L, simply because we can expect many predicted sites by chance.

  2. The last part of the current discussion ("Notably, the industrial melanism event, in a short period of several decades ... a more advanced self-regulation program") is flawed with important logical shortcuts that assign "agency" to the evolutionary process. For instance, this section conveys the idea that phenotypically relevant mutations may not be random. I believe some of this is due to translation issues in English, as I understand that the authors want to express the idea that some parts of the genome are paths of least resistance for evolutionary change (e.g. the regulatory regions of developmental regulators are likely to articulate morphological change). But the language and tone is made worst by the mention that in another system, a mechanism involving photoreception drives adaptive plasticity, making it sound like the authors want to make a Lamarckian argument here (inheritance of acquired characteristics), or a point about orthogenesis (e.g. the idea that the environment may guide non-random mutations).
    Because this last part of the current discussion suffers from confused statements on modes and tempo of regulatory evolution and is rather out of topic, I would suggest removing it.

In any case, it is important to highlight here that while this manuscript is an excellent genotype-to-phenotype study, it has very few comparative insights on the evolutionary process. The finding that mamo is a pattern or pigment regulatory factor is interesting and will deserve many more studies to decipher the full evolutionary study behind this Gene Regulatory Network.

Minor Comment :

The gene models presented in Figure 1 are obsolete, as there are more recent annotations of the Bm-mamo gene that feature more complete intron-exon structures, including for the neighboring genes in the bd/bdf intervals. It remains true that the mamo locus encodes two protein isoforms.
An example of the Bm-mamo locus annotation, can be found at :
RNAseq expression tracks (including from larval epidermis) can be displayed in the embedded genome browser from the link above using the "Configure Tracks" tool.

Based on these more recent annotations, I would say that most of the work on the two isoforms remains valid, but FigS2, and particularly Fig.S2C, need to be revised.

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

The authors tried to identify new genes involved in melanin metabolism and its spatial distribution in the silkworm Bombyx mori. They identified the gene Bm-mamo as playing a role in caterpillar pigmentation. By functional genetic and in silico approaches, they identified putative target genes of the Bm-mamo protein. They showed that numerous cuticular proteins are regulated by Bm-mamo during larval development.

-preliminary data about the role of cuticular proteins to pattern the localization of pigments
- timely question
- challenging question because it requires the development of future genetic and cell biology tools at the nanoscale

- statistical sampling limited
- the discussion would gain in being shorter and refocused on a few points, especially the link between cuticular proteins and pigmentation. The article would be better if the last evolutionary-themed section of the discussion is removed.

A recent paper has been published on the same gene in Bombyx mori ( in August 2023. The authors must discuss and refer to this published paper through the present manuscript.

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  2. Wellcome Trust
  3. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  4. Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation