Dr Laura Ferguson

Biological Sciences
Junior Research Fellow


DPhil Jesus College, Cambridge 2009, Msc(Res) University of Bristol 2005, BA (Hons) Biology, Additional Honours History and Philosophy of Science, St Hildas College 2003

Academic Background

Following my DPhil I worked as a Post-doc with Dr Chris Jiggins (University of Cambridge) for 9 months

Undergraduate Teaching

BA Biology 3rd year Evolution and Development tutorials

Research Interests

The field of Evolutionary Genetics seeks to understand both the ‘why’, and the ‘how’ of the diversity of animal life. We ask whether particular features have advantage in the wild (‘why’), and which DNA mutations have occurred to generate this new feature (‘how’).

The wing patterns of Heliconius butterflies are a particularly suitable model for evolutionary genetics because they are diverse, highly adaptive, and genetic resources are available for making the link between the wild wing pattern and evolutionary mutations. Understanding novel wing patterning will help us understand how evolution operates.

I aim to to develop a major outstanding question: how predictable is evolution? The Heliconius are wing pattern mimics across the neotropics. Therefore I can use mimetic pairs to investigate whether evolution has targeted the same genes in both species, or whether two species use completely different genetic routes to achieve the same pattern. This work will contribute to emerging debates about whether the process of evolution is in some way constrained, and whether regions of the DNA which are hotspots of evolution share particular characteristics.

Publications include:

Nadeau N, Pardo-Diaz C, Whibley A, Supple M, Wallbank R, Wu GC, Maroja L,  Ferguson LC , Hines H, … Jiggins CD. A major gene controls mimicry and crypsis in butterflies and moths. Nature in review

Ferguson LC, Martalez F, Carter JM, Gibbs M, Taylor W, Breuker C, Holland P. Ancient expansion of the Hox cluster in Lepidoptera generated four homeobox genes implicated in extra-embryonic tissue formation. PLoS Genetics 2014 Oct 10(10): e1004698.

Ahola V , Lehtonen R, Somervuo P, Salmela L, Koskinen P, Rastas P, Välimäki N, Paulin L, Kvist J, Wahlberg N, Tanskanen J, Hornett E, Ferguson LC, et al…. Frilander M. The Glanville fritillary genome retains an ancient karyotype and reveals selective chromosomal fusions in Lepidoptera. Nature Communications 2014 Sep 5;5:4737

Briscoe AD, Macias-Muñoz A, Kozak KM, Walters JR, Yuan F, Jamie GA, Martin SH, Dasmahapatra KK, Ferguson LC, Mallet J, Jacquin-Joly E, Jiggins CD. Female behaviour drives expression and evolution of gustatory receptors in butterflies. PLoS Genet. 2013 Jul;9(7):e1003620.

The Heliconius Genome Consortium. Butterfly genome revels promiscuous exchange of mimicry adaptations among species. Nature, 2012 Jul 5; 487(7405):94-8

Ferguson LC, Maroja L, Jiggins CD. Convergent, modular expression of ebony and tan in the mimetic wing patterns of Heliconius butterflies. Dev Genes Evol. 2011 Dec; 221(5-6):297-308

Joron M, Frezal L, Jones RT, Chamberlain NL, Lee SF, Haag CR, Whibley A, Becuwe M, Baxter SW, Ferguson LC, Wilkinson PA, Salazar C, Davidson C, Clark R, Quail MA, Beasley H, Glithero R, Lloyd C, Sims S, Jones MC, Rogers J, Jiggins CD, ffrench-Constant RH. Chromosomal rearrangements maintain a polymorphic supergene controlling butterfly mimicry. Nature. 2011 Aug 14; 477(7363):203-6

Ferguson LC, Green J, Surridge A, Jiggins CD.  Evolution of the insect yellow gene family. Mol Biol Evol. 2011 Jan; 28(1):257-72

Baxter SW, Nadeau NJ, Maroja LS, Wilkinson P, Counterman BA, Dawson A, Beltran M, Perez-Espona S, Chamberlain N, Ferguson L, Clark R, Davidson C, Glithero R, Mallet J, McMillan WO, Kronforst M, Joron M, Ffrench-Constant RH, Jiggins CD.  Genomic hotspots for adaptation: the population genetics of Müllerian mimicry in the Heliconius melpomene clade. PLoS Genet. 2010 Feb 5;6(2):e1000794.

Ferguson LC, Jiggins CD. Shared and divergent expression domains on mimetic Heliconius wings. Evolution and Development 2009, 11:498-592


Professionally I am interested in translational partnering between academia and industry. I have acted as team leader for a Roche consulting project ‘Extending the Innovation Network’, and have carried out work experience at the Johnson and Johnson Innovation Centre in London. I have recently started some freelance science communications work, and am interested in any opportunities for collaboration in this area.

I also have three fantastic sons born in 2010, 2012 and 2014 who keep me pretty busy! We love exploring the local countryside in South Derbyshire, and make the most of the wonderful National Trust property Calke Abbey being on our doorstep. I’m a member of a local running club and church, and also enjoy arts and crafts, and take an interest in most aspects of design.