Every species on earth has been shaped by evolution, with genetic changes adding up over time to create an incredible diversity of life. But how does it happen? Using the example of the vibrant wing patterns on these relatively distantly related species of Heliconius butterflies, which live in the Amazon, scientists have found that rather than changes in genes leading to differences between species, alterations in the ‘control switches’ that turn a gene called optix on at the right time and in the right place can create a multitude of forms. Optix controls the red colouration in a butterfly’s wings, and small changes in its activity can make a big difference to an insect’s wing pattern. And it’s not just butterflies where this is important. Shuffling switches has contributed to our own evolution and mistakes in them can lead to genetic problems ranging from birth defects to diseases including cancer.
Today is the Association for Butterflies annual Butterfly Education and Awareness Day (BEAD)
Written by Kat Arney
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.