Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have for the first time released the full genomic sequence of Monarch butterfly.
This adds a new fame to this iconic butterfly, which is famous for its ability to travel up to 2,000 miles from North America to central Mexico every fall.
The new genome is the first for any butterfly. It is also the first complete genome of any long-distance migrant.
“With this genome sequence in hand, we now have an overwhelming number of opportunities to understand the genetic and molecular basis of long-distance migration,” said Steven Reppert of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Reppert’s team has been studying the monarch migration for years, with a particular interest in how their brains incorporate information in time and space to find their way.
The researchers focused their genome analysis on pathways known to be critical for this migration, including those responsible for vision, the circadian clock, and oriented flight.
The genome also revealed the complete set of genes required for synthesizing juvenile hormone.
Changes in that hormone are required for migrating butterflies to shut down reproduction and extend their lifespan up to nine months. By comparison, non-migrants only live for about a month.
Comparisons of the new monarch genome with other insect genomes also reveal that butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) are the fastest evolving insect order yet examined.
The findings appeared in November 23rd issue of Cell.