Friday, 18 September 2015

Butterflies steal DNA of zombie wasps in natural genetic modification

Scientist have found DNA of wasps in butterflies showing that genes can pass between species

By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor

7:00PM BST 17 Sep 2015

Butterflies 'steal’ the genes of wasps to make them more resistant to disease , scientists have found, in first evidence of natural genetic modification in the animal kingdom.

Although campaigners have long warned of the dangers of GM, it appears that some animals are already altering their own genomes, naturally selecting beneficial virus-fighting DNA from other creatures.

Spanish and French researchers discovered that genes which should only occur in parasitic wasps are present in the genetic makeup of many butterflies including Monarchs.

Monarchs and other butterflies and moths are targeted by parasitic braconid wasps who lay their eggs inside caterpillars and inject a virus to squash the caterpillar’s immune response which would usually drive out the invaders.

Bracoviruses work by merging with the DNA of their hosts, altering gene expression. They even alter the brains of caterpillars, effectively turning them into zombies, so that when the wasp larvae emerge from their hosts the caterpillar spins them a protective cocoon and becomes a bodyguard, fighting off other insects who would do them harm.

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