Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Unlocking the mystery of how insects got their wings

Hundreds of millions of years ago, two tissues fused to form wings on ancient beetles, according to the findings of a genetic experiment

Beetle wings are often hidden. Nestled behind armoured shields on the beetle’s back, they unfurl in whirring sheets, whisking their clumsy owners from danger. Beetles don’t have more than two sets of wings – unless they’re in Yoshinori Tomoyasu’s lab.

In research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tomoyasu and his co-author, David Linz, genetically engineered beetle larvae with wings on their abdomens, part of an attempt to unpack one of evolution’s greatest mysteries: how insects gained the ability to fly.

Insects took to the empty skies sometime between 300 million and 360 million years ago, long before birds, bats or pterosaurs. Wings allowed them to conquer new habitats and ecological niches, and insecta quickly established themselves as one of the most diverse and successful animal classes, a position they still hold today.

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