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Supergene secret to beautiful butterfly mimicry

Scientists say a supergene is the reason why butterflies' patterns mimic other species

Scientists have discovered a “supergene” in butterflies which explains why some can mimic other species which are potentially dangerous to their predators.

The results of a joint study conducted by scientists at Fribourg University, Exeter University in Britain and the Museum of Natural History in Paris were published on Wednesday in Nature magazine.

By studying an Amazonian butterfly, the Heliconius Numata, scientists discovered three chromosome types which correspond to three different mimicries. They showed that during evolution a group of some 30 genes had become blocked, which prevented the natural process of genetic mixing over generations.

This “supergene” bloc is inherited en masse, producing butterflies with totally different appearances from each other.

“It is fascinating that the different patterns (of butterfly wings) result essentially from variations in the order and orientation of genes along a portion of a chromosome,”  said assistant professor of the biology department at Fribourg University, Christophe Haag.

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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