Patterns, Genes, and Butterfly Wings

SCIENCE

Gene-hacking scientists reveal how a single gene helps determine the dizzying array of butterfly wing patterns. (Washington Post)

Take a look at the A-Z of butterfly wings.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit … and some gorgeous photos of butterflies. We couldn’t choose just one!

Photograph by Willard Culver, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

 

Photograph by Willard Culver, National Geographic

 

  • OK. What is gene-editing?
    • Genome editing is a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted or replaced in the genome of a living organism.
    • To edit butterfly genomes, scientists used CRISPR, a naturally occurring series of DNA sequences in bacteria. CRISPR is a part of a gene-editing technique sometimes nicknamed “molecular scissors” for the way it can cut into strands of DNA.
      • Using CRISPR, scientists involved in the butterfly study deleted WntA (“wint-ay”), a signaling gene they knew was important in determining wing patterns.

 

Photograph by Willard Culver, National Geographic

 

  • Why are butterflies and butterfly wing patterns valuable in the study of genetics?
    • Butterflies are valuable to scientists for their sheer diversity. There are more than 20,000 species of butterfly alive today, all descended from a single species of moth, and examples of most butterfly species are preserved as specimens in museums.
    • Butterfly wing patterns are appealing “because, though they’re ornate, they exist on a simple canvas: Unlike the architecture of our hearts or brains, butterfly markings are confined to essentially two dimensions.”

 

Photograph by Willard Culver, National Geographic

 

 

Photograph by Willard Culver, National Geographic

 

Photograph by Willard Culver, National Geographic

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Washington Post: Mutant butterflies reveal the genetic roots of colorful wings

The Atlantic: Scientists Can Now Repaint Butterfly Wings

Nat Geo: Why Do Butterflies Have Such Vibrant Colors and Patterns?

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