Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Evolutionary Geneticist Helps Find Butterfly Gene, Clue to Age-Old Question

01.02.2012
Years after sleeping in hammocks in the wilds of Peru and Panama, collecting hundreds of thousands of samples of colorful insects, Mississippi State assistant professor Brian Counterman now is helping unlock a very difficult puzzle.

The more-than-century-long challenge has involved a secret of the Heliconius butterfly, the orange, black, yellow, and red insect that hasn't easily communicated how all its radiant colors came to be.

For evolutionary biologists, and especially geneticists like Counterman, the butterflies--commonly called passion vine butterflies--make perfect research subjects for better understanding the important scientific question: How do organisms change to survive?

Over the past decade, the researcher in the university's biological sciences department has been part of an international team using field experiments, genetic mapping, population genetics, and phylogenetics to study the butterflies' biology and history.

A Duke University doctoral graduate in biology and evolutionary genetics, Counterman studied genetics of adaptation as part of his post-doctoral research at North Carolina State University. He joined the MSU faculty in 2009.

Passion vine butterflies are found throughout South and Central America. Through the years, scientists observed that Heliconius butterflies with certain red patterns survived in certain areas, while others didn't.

"There are very few cases that we know what traits determine if an organism will survive in nature," Counterman said, adding that he and a team of researchers recently uncovered the gene responsible for the different red wing patterns.

Their finds were featured in the July issue of Science magazine.

Counterman said the butterflies use red as a warning signal to birds and other predators that they are poisonous and should not be consumed.

"This is one of the first examples where we've found the genetic change that allowed (an organism) to live or die in nature," he observed, adding that finding the red gene was just the first step in understanding how they have survived.

Counterman and his team further analyzed the red gene to reconstruct when the different red patterns evolved, providing important clues into how rapidly new adaptations can arise and spread in populations that nearly encompass entire continents.

This research was showcased on the cover in a December issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

For scientists like Counterman, finding answers to these questions may give insight about how and why the diversity in the world evolved. And, there is still more to come.

Counterman now is part of a team sequencing the entire Heliconius genome--one of the first butterfly genomes--that should open the door to a new level of questioning into the biological causes for one of the most charismatic groups of organisms on earth.

While these studies involve one of nature's most delicate and enchanting creatures, they are part of a larger, serious inquiry that most humans consider at some point in their lives:

"How did the world get to where it is?" Counterman said recently, discussing his fascination with genetics and biology.

Robbie Ward | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.msstate.edu

Further reports about: Age-Old Geneticist Heliconius Question evolutionary biologist

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Solving the efficiency of Gram-negative bacteria
22.03.2019 | Harvard University

nachricht Bacteria bide their time when antibiotics attack
22.03.2019 | Rice University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: The taming of the light screw

DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.

The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...

Im Focus: Magnetic micro-boats

Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.

The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...

Im Focus: Self-healing coating made of corn starch makes small scratches disappear through heat

Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.

Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...

Im Focus: Stellar cartography

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.

A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...

Im Focus: Heading towards a tsunami of light

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Modelica Conference with 330 visitors from 21 countries at OTH Regensburg

11.03.2019 | Event News

Selection Completed: 580 Young Scientists from 88 Countries at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

01.03.2019 | Event News

LightMAT 2019 – 3rd International Conference on Light Materials – Science and Technology

28.02.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Solving the efficiency of Gram-negative bacteria

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Bacteria bide their time when antibiotics attack

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Open source software helps researchers extract key insights from huge sensor datasets

22.03.2019 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>