Butterfly Wings Make-Over with the New Gene-Editing Technique

Khryss | Published 2017-09-29 19:57

The secret behind one of nature's greatest artworks revealed, thanks to people's favorite gene-editing tool!

There are more than 20,000 different species of butterflies lurking around our ecosystem today. Famous for their undeniable beauty, their wings' patterns and colours have been fascinating thousands of researchers.

Now, a group of scientists have managed to tweak certain genes that can change those wings' aesthetic.

“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," lead scientist Arnaud Martin of the George Washington University, US. “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?"

Utilizing the new gene-editing technique CRISPR/Cas9, they've examined how WntA gene or the "painting gene" affects butterfly wings. They've then targeted such gene and removed it from seven distinct species. This caused drastic changes on the insect's appearance--from the wing patterns to its colors.

Normal Vs Mutant

“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.”

This implies that the WntA is the master gene responsible for different butterflies' respective looks. Findings give light on the general "rules of life" (genetics and evolution) the shapes biodiversity.

Martin added: “Our research is very fundamental, and it’s about trying to understand where we come from and how. 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.”


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