Navigation Links
An eye gene colors butterfly wings red

Red may mean STOP or I LOVE YOU! A red splash on a toxic butterfly's wing screams DON'T EAT ME! In nature, one toxic butterfly species may mimic the wing pattern of another toxic species in the area. By using the same signal, they send a stronger message: DON'T EAT US!

Now several research teams that include Smithsonian scientists in Panama, have discovered that Heliconius butterflies mimic each other's red wing patterns through changes in the same gene.

Not only does this gene lead to the same red wing patterns in neighboring species, it also leads to a large variety of red wing patterns in Heliconius species across the Americas that result when it is turned on in other areas of the wings.

Because different butterfly species evolved red wing patterns independently, resulting in a huge variety of patterns we see today, researchers thought that different genes were responsible in each case.

"The variety of wing patterns in Heliconius butterflies has always fascinated collectors," said Owen McMillan, geneticist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, "People have been trying to sort out the genetics of mimicry rings since the 1970's. Now we put together some old genetics techniques and some newer genomics techniques and came up with the very surprising result that only one gene codes for all of the red wing patterns. The differences that we see in the patterns seems to be due to the way the gene is regulated."

First the team used genetic screens to look for genes that are turned on differently in butterflies with red wing patterns and lacking in other butterflies without this pattern. When they discovered a promising gene, they used stains to show where this gene was expressed on butterfly wings showing different patterns. They found the gene to be expressed exactly where red pigment occurs in the wings in every case. The match was so perfect that they could identify subtle differences in red patterns between species using these stains.

They combed genetic librariesgene banks to see if the gene they found matched genes characterized in other studies. "We found that the same gene that codes for the red in Heliconius wings was already identified as a gene called optix that is involved in eye development in other organisms," said co-author Heather Hines, "It is intriguing that the ommochrome pigments that color these wings red are also expressed in the eye. How the optix gene codes for wing color raises a host of new questions."

"Tropical biologists have been striving for centuries to explain what it is that makes life in the tropics so biologically diverse," said STRI Director, Eldredge Bermingham, "Now this group has discovered that a single gene underlies one of the most spectacular evolutionary radiations in nature! Perhaps the genetic basis for diversity will turn out to be far more simple than we expected."


Contact: Beth King
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Related biology news :

1. How can a colorblind animal change its colors to blend into the background?
2. Wildflower colors tell butterflies how to do their jobs
3. Hearing colors, seeing sounds: New research explores sensory overlap in the brain
4. From butterflies wings to bank notes -- how natures colors could cut bank fraud
5. Butterfly vision, wing colors linked, UCI study finds
6. UCI-led butterfly study sheds light on convergent evolution
7. NASAs Aura satellite measures pollution butterfly from fires in central Africa
8. Butterfly study reveals traits and genes associated with establishment of new populations
9. Internet catches updated butterfly and moth website
10. Chinese-German collaboration yields new species of Large Blue butterfly
11. Artificial butterfly in flight and filmed
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
An eye gene colors butterfly wings red
(Date:11/4/2015)... York , November 4, 2015 ... a new market report published by Transparency Market Research "Home ... Growth, Trends and Forecast 2015 - 2022", the global home ... US$ 30.3 bn by 2022. The market is estimated ... forecast period from 2015 to 2022. Rising security needs ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... Minn. , Oct. 29, 2015   MedNet ... supports the entire spectrum of clinical research, is pleased ... Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) as one of only ... in the "Software – Small and Growing" category. The Tekne ... individuals who have shown superior technology innovation and leadership. ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... Va. , Oct. 29, 2015 Daon, ... today that it has released a new version of ... customers in North America have ... IdentityX v4.0 also includes a FIDO UAF certified ... are already preparing to activate FIDO features. These customers ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:12/1/2015)... ... December 01, 2015 , ... Park Systems ... an add-on scanning ion conductance microscopy module to Park NX10 that is the ... , Park SICM benefits virtually all materials characterization that require measurements in liquid ...
(Date:12/1/2015)... SAN DIEGO , December 1, 2015 Dr. Harry Lander ... serving as Chief Science Officer and recruits ... Dr. Harry Lander , President of Regen, expands his role ... and recruits five distinguished scientists to ... of Regen, expands his role to include ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... November 30, 2015 , ... Global Stem Cells Group ... of a new closed system for isolating adipose-derived stem cells. The announcement starts a ... of adipose tissue. SVF is a component of the lipoaspirate obtained from liposuction of ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... 2015 Partnership includes an MPP ... for the u niversity , s ... treatment s cale - up through ... Africa , where licensees based anywhere in the world will have ... --> Africa , where licensees based anywhere in the world ...
Breaking Biology Technology: