Researchers Sequence Monarch Butterfly's Genome
November 24, 2011

Researchers Sequence Monarch Butterfly’s Genome

Scientists have reported for the first time ever the genomic sequence of the iconic Monarch Butterfly in the journal Cell.

The Monarch butterfly is mostly famous for its migration of 2,000 miles from North America to central Mexico every fall.

The new genome is the first for any butterfly, and is also the first complete genome of any long-distance migrant.

"With this genome sequence in hand, we now have an overwhelming number of opportunities to understand the genetic and molecular basis of long-distance migration," Steven Reppert of the University of Massachusetts Medical School said in a press release.

The researchers have been studying the monarch migrations for years, mostly interested in how their brains incorporate information in time and space to help guide them.

The butterflies are always at least two generations removed from those that made the journey in the previous fall.  Reppert said "it is in their genes."

The team focused their genome analysis on pathways known to be critical for their migration pattern.

The genome also revealed the complete set of genes required for synthesizing juvenile hormone.  Changes in this hormone are required for migrating butterflies to shut down reproduction and extend their lifespan up to nine months.

Comparisons of the new monarch genome with other insect genomes also reveal that butterflies and moths are the fastest evolving insect order studied so far.

"Overall," the researchers write, "the attributes of the monarch genome and its proteome provide a treasure trove for furthering our understanding of monarch butterfly migration; a solid background for population genetic analyses between migratory and non-migratory populations; and a basis for future genetic comparison of the genes involved in navigation yet to be discovered in other long-distance migrating species, including vertebrates like migratory birds."


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