Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Wildflower colors tell butterflies how to do their jobs

The recipe for making one species into two requires time and some kind of separation, like being on different islands or something else that discourages gene flow between the two budding species.

In the case of common Texas wildflowers that share meadows and roadside ditches, color-coding apparently does the trick.

Duke University graduate student Robin Hopkins has found the first evidence of a specific genetic change that helps two closely related wildflowers avoid creating costly hybrids. It results in one of the normally light blue flowers being tagged with a reddish color to appear less appetizing to the pollinating butterflies which prefer blue.

"There are big questions about evolution that are addressed by flower color," said Hopkins, who successfully defended her doctoral dissertation just weeks before seeing the same work appear in the prestigious journal Nature.

What Hopkins found, with her thesis adviser, Duke biology professor Mark Rausher, is the first clear genetic evidence for something called reinforcement in plants. Reinforcement keeps two similar proto-species moving apart by discouraging hybrid matings. Flower color had been expected to aid reinforcement, but the genes had not been found.

In animals or insects, reinforcement might be accomplished by a small difference in scent, plumage or mating rituals. But plants don't dance or choose their mates. So they apparently exert some choice by using color to discourage the butterflies from mingling their pollen, Hopkins said.

Where Phlox drummondii lives by itself, it has a periwinkle blue blossom. But where its range overlaps with Phlox cuspidata, which is also light blue, drummondii flowers appear darker and more red. Some individual butterflies prefer light blue blossoms and will go from blue to blue, avoiding the dark reds. Other individual butterflies prefer the reds and will stick with those. This "constancy" prevents hybrid crosses.

Hybrid offspring between drummondii and cuspidata turn out to be nearly sterile, making the next generation a genetic dead-end. The persistent force of natural selection tends to push the plants toward avoiding those less fruitful crosses, and encourages breeding true to type. In this case, selection apparently worked upon floral color.

Hopkins was able to find the genes involved in the color change by crossing a light blue drummondii with the red in greenhouse experiments. She found the offspring occurred in four different colors in the exact 9-to-3-to-3-to-1 ratios of classical Mendelian inheritance. "It was 2 in the morning when I figured this out," she said. "I almost woke up my adviser."

From there, she did standard genetics to find the exact genes. The change to red is caused by a recessive gene that knocks out the production of the plant's one blue pigment while allowing for the continued production of two red pigments.

Even where the red flowers are present, about 11 percent of each generation will be the nearly-sterile hybrids. But without color-coding, that figure would be more like 28 percent, Hopkins said. Why and how the butterflies make the distinction has yet to be discovered.

Hopkins will be continuing her research as a visiting scientist at the University of Texas, and the clear message from all of her advisers is "follow the butterflies. Everyone wants to know more about the butterflies!"

The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation.

CITATION: "Identification of two genes causing reinforcement in the Texas wildflower Phlox drummondii," Robin Hopkins and Mark D. Rausher. Nature, Advance Online Publication, Jan. 9, 2011 DOI:10.1038/nature09641

Karl Leif Bates | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Make way for the mini flying machines
21.03.2018 | American Chemical Society

nachricht New 4-D printer could reshape the world we live in
21.03.2018 | American Chemical Society

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

TRAPPIST-1 planets provide clues to the nature of habitable worlds

21.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

The search for dark matter widens

21.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Natural enemies reduce pesticide use

21.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>