January 9, 2008

Inner Clock May Lead Monarch Butterflies

Genetic information about the biological clock of monarch butterflies might reveal information about our circadian rhythms.

A study was published online in the Public Library of Science and their Biology Journal which found that the biological clocks of butterflies help them use the sun as a compass.

Dr. Steven Reppert, a neurobiologist from the University of Massachusetts led the study's seven-member research team. His reasoning? "A butterfly's brain is no bigger than the head of a pin, and yet it has this incredible capability. So we really want to understand that," stated Reppert.

The research team along with Dr. Reppert discovered cryptochrome proteins in the molecular makeup of the butterfly, and they believe these proteins enable the monarchs to find their way from Canada to Mexico using the sun's position as their compass. These proteins are not only found in the butterfly, but also other insects and mammals.

Once further researched, this may lead to further understanding of human sleep disorders and depression.  

The research was funded by the Czech Republic's Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports as well as by grants from the National Institute of Health.