Southbound genes

A genome study in monarch butterflies pulls out a set of 40 key players in long distance migration

Amber Dance
Amber Dance

Amber Dance is an award-winning freelance science journalist based in Southern California. After earning a doctorate in biology, she re-trained in journalism as a way to engage her broad interest...

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Researchers have for the first time identified a set of genes involved in long distance migration. The turn of the seasons from summer to fall flips at least 40 genetic switches in the brains of monarch butterflies, causing the autumn generation to put off mating and hightail it for Mexico, according to a study published March 31 by the journal BMC Biology.
Image: David R. Weaver
"We've been able to find a relatively small collection of genes that are important" for migration, said linkurl:Steven Reppert,; a neurobiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worchester and the study's main author. "People can now focus on those as potentially being involved in orientation behavior."Monarchs that crawl out of their chrysalises during the summer live and reproduce for two to six weeks. Butterflies that emerge in the fall, however, make less of a hormone required for reproductive development. Coupled with...

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