Butterflies and moths share “blocks” of DNA dating back more than 200 million years, new research shows.
Scientists from the University of Exeter (UK), Lübeck (Germany) and Iwate (Japan) developed a tool to compare the chromosomes (DNA molecules) of different butterflies and moths.
They found blocks of chromosomes present in all types of moths and butterflies, and also in Trichoptera—aquatic caddisflies that shared a common ancestor with moths and butterflies about 230 million years ago.
Moths and butterflies (collectively called Lepidoptera) have widely varying numbers of chromosomes—from 30 to 300—but the study’s findings show striking evidence of shared homology blocks (similar structures ) that goes back in time.
“DNA is grouped into individual particles or chromosomes that form the basic units of inheritance,” says Professor Richard ffrench-Constant, from the Center for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
“If genes are on the same ‘string’, or chromosome, they tend to be inherited together and are therefore ‘linked’.”
“However, different animals and plants have widely different numbers of chromosomes, so we can’t easily
“This becomes a big problem when chromosome numbers vary—as they do in Lepidoptera.”
“We developed a simple technique that looks at the similarity of blocks of genes on each chromosome and thus gives us a real picture of how they change as different species evolve.”
“We found 30 basic units of ‘synteny’ (literally meaning ‘on the same string’ where the thread is DNA) that are present in all butterflies and moths, and go all the way back to their sister group of caddisflies or Trichoptera.”
Butterflies are often seen as important indicators of conservation, and many species around the world are declining due to human activity.
However, this study shows that they are also useful models for studying chromosome evolution.
The study advances the scientific understanding of how genes evolved in moths and butterflies and, importantly, similar techniques may also provide insights into the evolution of chromosomes in other groups of animals or plants.
The study was published in the journal G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics.
Walther Traut et al, Lepidopteran Synteny Units reveal deep chromosomal conservation in butterflies and moths, G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics (2023). DOI: 10.1093/g3journal/jkad134
Provided by the University of Exeter
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