Feeds

Speedy evolution saves blue moon butterflies

Eye blinkingly fast

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Researchers on the island of Samoa have witnessed evolution in action, as the population of male "Blue Moon" butterflies has returned from the brink of extinction. The researchers, from Berkeley University, put the resurgence of the species down to an evolutionary arms race, in which the butterflies' latest weapon is a gene that fights off a parasite.

The male 'Blue moon' butterfly. Image credit: Sylvain Charlat

The male 'Blue moon' butterfly. Image credit: Sylvain Charlat.

Six years ago, the male Blue Moon butterflies made up just one per cent of the species. The cause was a parasitic bacteria, Wolbachia. The bacteria is passed down by the mother and selectively kills male butterflies before they have a chance to hatch.

But despite continued infection with the bacteria, the males of the species are now back at 40 per cent of the total population.

The key lies in a gene that holds the bacteria in check. The gene is so successful that it spread throughout the entire population of butterflies within 10 generations - over the course of a year, according to the paper published in the 13 July edition of Science.

"To my knowledge, this is the fastest evolutionary change that has ever been observed," said Sylvain Charlat, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral researcher with joint appointments at the University of California, Berkeley, and University College London.

"This study shows that when a population experiences very intense selective pressures, such as an extremely skewed sex ratio, evolution can happen very fast."

The team is not certain of the origins of the saviour gene. It could have emerged through random mutation, or it could have been introduced into the population by a migrating butterfly.

"Regardless of which of the two sources of the suppressor gene is correct, natural selection is the next step. The suppressor gene allows infected females to produce males, these males will mate with many, many females, and the suppressor gene will therefore be in more and more individuals over generations," said Charlat.

The researchers say the discovery illustrates how quickly a species can respond to an evolutionary pressure and, more generally, how important parasites might be as an evolutionary force. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.