Butterfly wings patterns have long been a source of amazement to specialists and amateurs alike. Their complex models, from eyes staring back at you, to iridescent colors, have long since been believed to be the result of a complex collection of genes.
However, two new studies suggest that this process may actually be far simpler, as just two particular genes might be the source of the patterns on a butterfly’s wings. These might be helping determine both the lines and the colors of these patterns, and disrupting them could have varied effects.
The teams point out that turning off the genes might lead to duller patterns, simpler colors, or even monochromatic butterflies.
Butterfly Wing Patterns, Now Easier to Influence?
One of the research teams of the new studies used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology to alter the appearance of specimens from seven butterfly species. In doing so, they studied the role of the WntA gene in creating butterfly wing patterns.
Removing or “turning off” this gene reportedly led to a radical alteration of the aspect of the involved butterflies. Both the colors and the patterns on their wings changed in surprising ways. This study proved that the WntA is one of the two “master genes” responsible for the trademark look of a butterfly.
The second study also used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique. But this other research targeted the optix gene, also called by the team the “paintbrush gene”. Through their research, the team validated that this is the second of the two “master genes”, and that this one is specifically in charge of the coloration of the wings, and its corroboration with the patterns.
“We know why butterflies have beautiful colored patterns. […] 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 timescales?” asked Arnaud Martin.
Part of the Washington State University, he is the lead author of one of the studies and a co-author in the other.
The research teams pointed out that these studies have major implications for understanding the “rules of life” and their role in biodiversity. These rules, genetics and evolution, are a reason for the existence of over 20,00 different species of butterflies.
Both study papers are available in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Image Source: Pixabay