BYU Researchers Use Butterflies to Study Evolution
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Out of the Blue

Building on Darwin

A butterfly lands on a flower in an extremely close-up image.
Photo by Nate Edwards

A team of researchers from Harvard, MIT, and elsewhere joined BYU plant and wildlife sciences professor Paul B. Frandsen (BS ’10) in a study looking at heliconius butterflies and the link between evolution and genetics.

Their findings, published in Science, are causing scientists to expand upon Darwin’s bifurcating evolutionary trees. The diagram of “the evolutionary history resembles more of a bush,” Frandsen explains, with horizontal lines connecting some of the branches.

After mapping 20 butterfly genomes, Frandsen and his team found that introgression, the transfer of DNA between different species through crossbreeding, has been a major pathway for sharing genetic characteristics among butterflies, such as genes that control the color patterns on their wings.