The bacteria, called Wolbachia, are a parasitic microbe and are known to significantly alter the reproductive capabilities of a high proportion of insect species, including wasps and fruit fly. The team found that the male-to-female ratio in butterfly populations fluctuated rapidly due to the interaction between the species and the bacteria over time and geographical space.
In the butterfly, Hypolimnas bolina, these bacteria are passed to offspring through the mother and kill the males as they develop in the egg. This results in the butterfly population having a biased sex-ratio, with a high number of females reproducing with very few males.
Using forensic DNA techniques to analyse specimens from the 1800s and 1900s, small samples of DNA were taken from the legs of both female and male butterflies and tested for the presence of the bacterium. The frequency and activity of the bacteria in the population was estimated and the results were compared to modern day samples so that the evolution in each population could be directly observed.
The team found that in some butterfly populations a gene had evolved that suppresses the effects of the bacteria so that infected males survive, but in other populations in the South Pacific for example, the frequency of the bacterium varied greatly and could rise to extreme levels. The result was that the sex-ratio of a population changed rapidly from a balanced male/female population to female-biased, which can alter the butterfly's behaviour and reproductive biology.
Professor Greg Hurst, from the University's School of Biological Sciences, said: "The butterfly has fascinated scientists for more than a century and was heavily collected and studied during the Victorian period and early 20th century. The butterfly, with its many colour patterns, illustrated variety within a species and was therefore a good model for 19th century scientists studying Darwin's theory of evolution. Today we can benefit from this early interest through museum collections, where we can now use the latest DNA technology to understand how species have evolved across time and geographical space."
Dr Emily Hornett added: "Before the 1990s it was practically impossible to extract DNA from historical specimens. Recent developments in forensic science, however, have allowed us to utilise new technologies to study museum collections and build a detailed picture of a species' evolution over a long period of time. By analysing DNA samples from the legs of butterflies living a century ago, and comparing these with contemporary samples, we were able to directly observe evolution between a butterfly and the bacteria that infects them."
Scientists are now working to locate the 'suppressor gene' in the genome in order to understand how the butterfly has evolved in response to the harmful effects of the bacteria.
Scientists studied specimens at the Natural History Museum, London and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The research is published in Current Biology.
Kate Spark | EurekAlert!
Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute
'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences
27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
27.10.2016 | Life Sciences