Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Genetic 'paint box' shuffled between butterfly species to create new wing patterns

January 15, 2016

New research on butterfly genomes has revealed that the genetic components that produce different splotches of colour on wings can be mixed up between species by interbreeding to create new patterns, like a "genetic paint-box".

Research on Amazonian Heliconiusbutterflies has shown that two of the most common colour patterns, found in combination on the wings of manyHeliconius species - the dennis red patch on the base of the forewing, and the ray red streaks that fan out across the hindwing - are controlled by separate genetic switches that arose in completely different species.

A team of researchers has traced the merging of these two wing pattern elements to interbreeding between butterfly species that occurred almost two million years ago.

It has been known for some time that exchange of genes between species can be important for evolution: humans have exchanged genes with our now extinct relatives which may help survival at high altitudes, and Darwin's Finches have exchanged a gene that influences beak shape. In butterflies, the swapping of wing pattern elements allows different species to share common warning signs that ward off predators - a phenomenon known as mimicry.

However, the new study, published today in the journal PLOS Biology, is the first to show such mixing of genetic material can produce entirely new wing patterns, by generating new combinations of genes.



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