Researchers Switch Off Gene to Switch On Ultraviolet in Butterfly Wings

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2022-01-12 23:30:08

[Note: High-resolution images, illustrations and animations related to this research available for download at this link. Caption and credit information provided.]

WASHINGTON (Jan. 10, 2022) — A team of researchers at the George Washington University has identified a gene that determines whether ultraviolet iridescence shows up in the wings of butterflies. In a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team showed that removing the gene in butterflies whose wings lack UV coloration leads to bright patches of UV iridescence in their wings. According to the researchers, the gene plays a critical role in the evolutionary process by which species become distinct from one another.

“As evolutionary biologists, we’re interested in identifying and understanding the genes that drive physical differences between species,” Arnaud Martin, an assistant professor of biology at GW and lead author on the paper, said. “Here we showed how a single gene determines whether ultraviolet coloration is switched on or off in two separate butterfly species. Because the geographic ranges of these two species overlap today, that visual distinction is all the more important when it comes time to find a mate.”

In the study, the researchers looked at two species of North American butterflies: the orange sulphur ( Colias eurytheme) and the clouded sulphur (Colias philodice). The wings of the male orange sulphur butterfly reflect UV light, which is invisible to the naked eye, whereas the wings of the female orange sulphur butterfly and the male and female clouded sulphur butterflies do not display UV coloration.

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