Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Butterflies Help Reveal The Source Of Life's Little Luxuries

Date:
January 25, 1999
Source:
University Of Wisconsin-Madison
Summary:
How the elephant got its trunk, the deer its antlers and the rattlesnake its rattles may seem like disparate questions of developmental biology, but the origins of these novelties, according to the genes of butterflies, may have much in common.

MADISON - How the elephant got its trunk, the deer its antlers and the rattlesnake its rattles may seem like disparate questions of developmental biology, but the origins of these novelties, according to the genes of butterflies, may have much in common.

Writing in this week's edition (Jan. 22) of the journal Science, scientists from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison describe a genetic trick that helps explain the staggering diversity of patterning and color exhibited on butterfly wings. The same trick, the scientists suggest, is widely used among animals and may be one of the underlying mechanisms that helps explain how new morphological characteristics -- from teeth and tortoise shells to fur and feathers -- arise through the course of evolution.

"The origin of new morphological characters is a long-standing problem in evolutionary biology," write molecular biologists David N. Keys, David L. Lewis and Sean B. Carroll in a paper that may help explain how unique bits of body architecture are added long after an animal's basic body has evolved.

The new insight into how animals acquire "novelties" was derived from comparisons of the wing-making genes of fruit flies and two very different species of butterflies, one from North America and one from East Africa. By tracing the genetic circuits that govern the development of wing shape and coloration, the Wisconsin scientists discovered that butterflies, instead of inventing new genes for color, simply reuse a part of the wing-building genetic circuit to turn on enzymes that produce the pigments responsible for wing decoration.

In the big scheme of animal evolution, according to Keys, a graduate student in Carroll's lab, the decoration of a butterfly's wing is a much more recent invention than the building of the wing itself: "Evolution, somewhere along the line, took this system and came up with a way to reuse it in an entirely new context while maintaining its original function."

"To our thinking, the reuse of genes makes innovation easier," said Carroll, a biologist whose work has helped resolve the role genes play in making such things as arms, legs and wings .

"Evolution," he said, "is working by integrating sets of things it already has. You're using a circuit over and over again."

How butterflies co-opt existing genetic programs to create eyespot patterns that help them fool predators, said Carroll, may in fact be a general mechanism animals use to create "luxury items -- teeth, antlers, shells, hair, coloration -- in the course of evolution."

"The invention of these novelties is an important facet of animal evolution," said Lewis, a UW-Madison post-doctoral fellow. "They impact hugely the lifestyles of the organisms."

Moreover, according to Carroll, since these luxuries are genetically wired to a specific developmental output, they can be further tinkered with at the genetic level to create new variants. Think, for example, of the enormous diversity of pattern and color in butterflies, or the array of antlers sported by different members of the deer family such as elk and moose.

"Once you make a new connection, it can independently evolve" through the interplay of development and genetic change, Carroll said. "Evolution can muck with that by changing things in the circuit. At the ends of these (genetic) pathways, the output can be very different."

"One of the amazing things about butterflies is that these genetic programs result in a tremendous variety of color patterns, not structures," said Lewis.

"Few would have guessed," said Keys, "that those beautiful color patterns evolved from the same genetic processes which all insects use to shape their wings."

Co-authors of the paper include Jane E. Selegue and Bret J. Pearson, also of UW-Madison; Lisa V. Goodrich, Ronald L. Johnson and Matthew P. Scott of the Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute at the Stanford University Medical Center; and Julie Gates of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Utah.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Wisconsin-Madison. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Wisconsin-Madison. "Butterflies Help Reveal The Source Of Life's Little Luxuries." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 January 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/01/990125072521.htm>.
University Of Wisconsin-Madison. (1999, January 25). Butterflies Help Reveal The Source Of Life's Little Luxuries. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/01/990125072521.htm
University Of Wisconsin-Madison. "Butterflies Help Reveal The Source Of Life's Little Luxuries." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/01/990125072521.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

AP (July 28, 2014) West African nations and international health organizations are working to contain the largest Ebola outbreak in history. It's one of the deadliest diseases known to man, but the CDC says it's unlikely to spread in the U.S. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

AP (July 28, 2014) Classes are being offered nationwide to encourage African Americans to learn about cooking fresh foods based on traditional African cuisine. The program is trying to combat obesity, heart disease and other ailments often linked to diet. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins