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Butterflies show how patterns evolve on the wing

last modified Jul 10, 2014 04:11 PM

Photo: Heliconius erato erato, Credit: C. Jiggins

A handful of highly specific genetic “switches” can control a kaleidoscopic diversity of colours and wing patterns in butterflies, Dr Chris Jiggins and Dr John Davey will demonstrate at this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in central London, which begins on July 1.

The research, which is based on recent studies in the jungles of Central and South America, has focused on variants of Heliconius, or passion vine, butterflies, and shows that the wide range of patterns found in their wings depends on where and when particular genes are turned on or off in the wings. The process by which these switches change is known as “regulatory evolution”, and appears to be one of the most important processes responsible for generating the huge diversity of animal life on Earth.

The research was funded by BBSRC, NERC and the Leverhulme Trust.