Metro Monday

Butterfly wings tattooed for ads
A butterfly image on the surface of a wing created by activating specially implanted florescent 'marker genes'

Advertisers looking for more innovative ways to get their message across could recruit insects do the job for them.

Scientists have developed a tool that 'tattoos' different patterns and colours on to butterfly wings, potentially transforming them into flying billboards.

The team of scientists created florescent green markings on the wings of genetically modified butterflies with a laser.

The tool was designed to make it easier to find out what genes do such as the role they play in making patterns on wings.

To demonstrate, they used the laser to stencil the silhouette of a butterfly on the surface of a butterfly's wing by activating specially implanted florescent 'marker genes'.

The team at the University at Buffalo (UB) said that other than the change of appearance, the butterfly is unaffected.

Antonia Monteiro, leader of the UB research team, said: 'As the laser heats up specific cells on the butterfly wing, genes that sit next to this regulatory sequence get turned on, allowing for specific clusters of cells on the wing to fluoresce.

'We want to be able to turn on or shut down specific genes on the developing butterfly wing in order to test their function in colouring the wing.'

The study, published in the journal BMC Developmental Biology, says that researchers wanting to discover how genes work in non-model organisms (species that have not extensively studied to understand particular biological phenomena) have had a limited set of tools to test gene function.

Now the team hopes the laser will be useful to scientists working on the colour patterns of other insects, fish, birds or plants.

Diane Ramos, a co-author of the paper, said: 'With this research, we have developed a tool to test gene function in an animal where these kinds of tools were not available before.

'We hope to inspire other researchers working in non-model organisms to use these kinds of techniques to answer fundamental questions about what genes do, which will allow interesting comparisons between species.'

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