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A Colombian Biologist Is on the Cover of Science

There are as many patterns and colors in the world as there are butterflies.

The Woman Post | Nibeth Adriana Duarte Camacho

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A recent study published by one of the world's most prestigious science magazines, such as Science, is from a Colombian scientist.

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The cover of this magazine, Science, was dressed in butterfly wings thanks to the work of Anyi Mazo Vargas, a biologist from the Universidad del Valle in Cali, and she is today a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences of the George Washington University, in the United States.Anyi has spent years studying the WNT gene essential for pattern formation in butterflies.

What Anyi showed is that the genetic architecture of the butterflies is ancient. And It has been preserved for thousands of years and plays a crucial role in creating the forms that we see in its wings,

The butterflies wings  in many cultures have been attributed powers: seeing nines, faces, and eyes in the wings of the butterfly por example, but,  this figures actually are consequence of the WNT gene. The team led by Mazo studied five species of butterflies: the Junonia coenia, also known as the deer's eye; the Vanessa cardui; the Heliconius himera; the Agraulis vanillae and the Danaus plexippus or monarch.

Anyi selected 46 regions of open #chromatin and used CRISPR, which is a new genetic editing technique that is revolutionizing biology. The acronym CRISPR is the name of repetitive sequences present in the DNA of bacteria, which function as autovaccines. They contain the genetic material of viruses that have attacked bacteria in the past, which is why they can recognize if the infection is repeated and defend against it by cutting the DNA of the invaders.

 So, she used CRISPR  to alter their function in 5 species. I injected about 18,000 butterfly eggs. The results are mosaic phenotypes in the wings.

To find the switches that control the activity of this gene, they managed to detect DNA regions in cells extracted from the wing in the development of these five species. The team led by Mazo Vargas found that there are many switches for the five butterfly species they studied. However, they all have such diverse aspects that the researchers expected that these regulatory or control sequences would be very different, but they realized that this is not the case.

WntA “outlines” colorful patterns of many butterfly species. The expression of this gene has changed repeatedly during evolution, we investigate the regulatory architecture and its conservation. Say Anyi

According to Dr. Mazo Vargas, studying the wings of these insects allows scientists like her to try to understand how DNA works as a variant and how it could be preserved. Also, the colors and patterns of the wings of butterflies are very important. Not only to camouflage themselves but also to play an essential role in communication or the search for a mate.

Having this extensive knowledge is an excellent starting point to delve further, to analyze how genes and specific DNA sequences are involved in the formation of these patterns and how these processes may also be changing. All those patterns that we see are encoded in the DNA.

 “In butterflies, it is very interesting because we know that there is a group of genes that are always repeated in these species that look so different”, says the scientist who five years ago also made a publication in which she precisely identified the WntA gene as an important factor in establishing wing patterns in many species of butterflies.

Today the biologist works on the continuation of her research. The gene she studies, WntA, is described as being in charge of only sketching the design that the wings carry, After it, other genes come to fill it, build it, and give it color. And the Colombian researcher wants to understand what these genes are, how they do it, and if that can vary among some of the species that are the object of her study.