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Butterfly Wing Patterns

September 19, 2017

Butterfly wings help reveal the genetics underlying coloration patterns.


Richard Wallbank Smithsonian Institution and University of Cambridge

Wing patterns of a normal Sara Longwing butterfly (left) compared to a mutant butterfly generated with CRISPR gene editing technology (right) at the Smithonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI). (Richard Wallbank/Smithsonian Institution and University of Cambridge)


Butterfly genetics. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

There are twenty thousand species of butterflies, each with its own pattern of wing color and design. George Washington University biologist Arnaud Martin and his colleagues recently knocked out a single gene critical for wing coloration in seven different types of butterflies.

ARNAUD MARTIN (George Washington University):

We were interested in understanding the genetic basis of biodiversity and we were asking a very simple question: can a single gene evolve to shape a lot of different things in many many species?


If one gene always had the same function, they should have seen the same effect in all the butterflies: maybe their spots would be bigger, or a different color. But they found that each species responded differently. The finding that a single gene can lead to a variety of novelty has implications for other organisms, as well, including humans. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Story by Bob Hirshon