genetic material from a jellyfish and a butterfly, University at
Buffalo biologists have created the first butterfly that expresses DNA
from another species.
The scientists hope this transgenic
butterfly can help them better understand how butterflies evolved to
display such a variety of colors and shapes on their paper-thin wings.
That research could lead to breakthroughs in the study of how other
creatures develop distinctive features, such as a tiger's stripes or a
pheasant's plumage, but not any time soon.
"That's kind of a
long way to go," said Antonia Monteiro, an assistant professor of
biology at UB. Monteiro is senior author of a paper on the research
published in the current issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society:
Monteiro; Jeffrey Marcus, a former
postdoctoral researcher in the biology department; and Diane M. Ramos,
a doctoral candidate in the department, conducted the research.
A native of Portugal who came to UB in 2002, Monteiro has been studying
the evolution and development of butterflies since she was an
Butterflies use their wings and the intricate
patterns of eyespots for camouflage, to attract a mate or to distract a
predator from attacking their vital central organs.
recently completed first phase of the research, led by Marcus, the
biologists injected the fluorescent green marker gene from the
jellyfish into tiny African tropical butterfly eggs.
trying to find out the function of certain genes that are expressed on
the wing, particularly in the location of the eyespot patterns,"
The scientists inserted two genetic sequences
into the eggs - one that contained the marker gene and a helper
sequence to ensure the marker gene inserts into the genome of the
Because the fluorescence cannot be detected under
normal light, the researchers use a fluorescent microscope to detect
the presence of the gene, a protein.
The UB researchers developed seven transgenic butterflies that show the marker gene.
Monteiro said a $240,000, two-year grant from the National Science Foundation supported the research.
Ramos is conducting the next phase of the research. She developed her
own transgenic butterfly lines using a fluorescent gene.
she will replace that marker gene with a gene that the researchers
believe controls the color gold in the butterfly wings.
new gene also responds to heat. Ramos will insert the gene into
butterfly eggs and, later, use a laser to provide a local heat shock to
activate the gene.
The laser at UB's Institute for Lasers,
Photonics and Biophotonics is so accurate that it can heat just a patch
If this works, the laser will act like a tattoo
artist's needle, creating golden eyespot patterns on the wings when the
egg grows into a pupa and then a butterfly.
The UB researchers
aren't close to applying their findings to vertebrates. Still, it's not
hard for them to look into a butterfly's eyespots and see the future.