Sunday, 24 September 2017

Secrets of butterfly wing patterns revealed by gene hacking

 18 September 2017
By New Scientist staff and Press Association
Butterfly wings have been given make-overs by scientists who tweaked a “painting gene” to change their patterns and colours.
The research has major implications for understanding how the so-called “rules of life” – genetics and evolution – shape biodiversity.
The team used the powerful new gene-editing technique CRISPR/Cas9 to study the role of the WntA gene in creating one of nature’s greatest artworks, the butterfly wing.
By removing the gene from seven butterfly species, they were able to radically alter the insect’s appearance. Wing patterns and colours changed in ways that were unexpected.
The research showed how WntA acted as a master gene responsible for the trademark look of different butterflies.
Architectural genes
Lead scientist Arnaud Martin, from George Washington University in the US, said: “We know why butterflies have beautiful coloured patterns. It’s usually for sexual selection, for finding a mate, or it’s some kind of adaptation to protect themselves from predators.
“What is more mysterious is how do they do it. How do you make stripes and dots, how do you make complexity, how do you fine-tune a given feature during long evolutionary time scales?
“CRISPR allowed us to not only describe that this gene has evolved multiple roles within a single species, it also enabled a massive comparison between species and showed that pattern evolution has consisted of variations on a common theme.”
More than 20,000 distinct species of butterflies live in the world today.

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