If you have ever been fascinated by the colors and patterns of the butterfly wings and you wished to understand them better, we have some good news for you. Scientists used a gene-editing tool that allowed them to discover two genes that determine the butterflies’ “design”. The new findings appeared in two studies that were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The gene hacking tool that revealed the secrets of butterflies
In order to discover the butterflies’ secrets, the researchers used the CRISPR editing tool. This tool allowed scientists to remove certain genes in some butterfly species. By deactivating them they were able to see which ones were responsible for colors, models, etc. This research “enabled a massive comparison between species and showed that pattern evolution has consisted of variations on a common theme.”
Arnaud Martin a lead author of the study and an assistant professor of biology in the George Washington University’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, declared that “In a way, a butterfly wing starts as a blank canvas where patches of cells develop for a specific purpose, and we have that in our own anatomy. If you look at the brain, to make very complicated brains you’ve got to make patterns. We don’t really know how all these patterns develop. That’s where butterflies come in.”
The painting gene
One of the most important genes is the WnTA gene. The researchers have reasons to believe that it is responsible for the colors and the models that appear on the butterfly wings. They removed this gene from seven butterfly species in order to see how it affected their patterns.
We already knew that the colorful wings have a purpose and they can either protect the butterfly or attract mates, but it is incredible to finally discover the mechanism behind it.