A natural timeless polymorphism allowing circadian clock synchronization in "white nights"

Nature communications
March 2022
Full Article
Lamaze A.
Chen C
Leleux S.
Xu M.
George R.
Stanewsky R.

Daily temporal organisation offers a fitness advantage and is determined by an interplay between environmental rhythms and circadian clocks. While light:dark cycles robustly synchronise circadian clocks, it is not clear how animals experiencing only weak environmental cues deal with this problem. Like humans, Drosophila originate in sub-Saharan Africa and spread North up to the polar circle, experiencing long summer days or even constant light (LL). LL disrupts clock function, due to constant activation of CRYPTOCHROME, which induces degradation of the clock protein TIMELESS (TIM), but temperature cycles are able to overcome these deleterious effects of LL. We show here that for this to occur a recently evolved natural timeless allele (ls-tim) is required, encoding the less light-sensitive L-TIM in addition to S-TIM, the only form encoded by the ancient s-tim allele. We show that only ls-tim flies can synchronise their behaviour to semi-natural conditions typical for Northern European summers, suggesting that this functional gain is driving the Northward ls-tim spread.