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Successful Merger of Butterfly Species 85

Posted by timothy
from the better-to-create-chaotic-futures dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "Researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) have recreated a real butterfly in the lab by crossing two other species of butterflies. This phenomenon, which is quite rare, is known as hybrid speciation. What is more surprising is that the hybrid butterfly has been created in just three generations of lab crosses. And BBC News tells us that the new butterfly species is a viable one, with its specific wing patterns which "make them undesirable as mates for members of their parent species." In fact, this hybridization, which occurred without any changes to the chromosome number, could mean that it is an important factor in the origin of new animal species. Read more for many additional references and a comparison of wing patterns between hybrids and wild butterflies."
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Successful Merger of Butterfly Species

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  • If only they could manage this for corporate mergers...
  • by nizo (81281) * on Monday June 19, 2006 @02:29PM (#15563073) Homepage Journal
    >Two butterfly species have been bred in the lab to make a third distinct species.

    So I wonder which species we would need to interbreed with to produced civilized human beings as offspring?

    • Re:Makes me wonder (Score:3, Informative)

      by DreadSpoon (653424)
      You can't possibly breed a "civilized" anything. A human baby today raised outside of civilization will not only fail to understand civilization, but will never be *able* to understand it once past a certain age. Certain parts of the brain don't develop in the necessary ways if they aren't stimulated early enough, like full language ability.

      That all goes back to "nature vs nurture" arguments.
      • Re:Makes me wonder (Score:4, Interesting)

        by enitime (964946) on Monday June 19, 2006 @03:20PM (#15563536)
        "A human baby today raised outside of civilization will not only fail to understand civilization, but will never be *able* to understand it once past a certain age. Certain parts of the brain don't develop in the necessary ways if they aren't stimulated early enough, like full language ability."


        Sadly, there have been a number of cases. None of whom could fully integrated into society. Children raised by wolves, dogs, monkeys, and recently in the news... chickens (no really!).

        See Feral Children [wikipedia.org] for more information.

  • Viable? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by eikonoklastes (530797)
    the new butterfly species is a viable one, with its specific wing patterns which "make them undesirable as mates for members of their parent species
    How viable are they as a species if they are unable to find partners for mating? (or am I reading that wrong?)
    • Re:Viable? (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The article is saying that they made Species C from A and B, and that A wouldn't want to mate with C, and B wouldn't either, but C's might mate with C's.
    • Re:Viable? (Score:4, Informative)

      by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Monday June 19, 2006 @02:44PM (#15563216)

      How viable are they as a species if they are unable to find partners for mating?

      They mean 'viable' in the sense that they can breed and are not sterile, like many hybrid animals (think donkeys) are. The wing patterns are probably mentioned because presumably these butterflies will breed with their own in the wild, building up a population of the species without merging with the parent species by interbreeding back with them until they are indistinguishable.

      • "The wing patterns are probably mentioned because presumably these butterflies will breed with their own in the wild, building up a population of the species without merging with the parent species [snip]"

        And fortunately for them, insects produce a great number of progeny from every single mating. Which means they can likely find a significant number of partners from their siblings.

        I never really thought about it before, but I suppose this is one of the reasons there are so many insect species compared

      • Uh... I think that you're talkin' mule, here, my friend, not donkey.

        Remember the formula: horse + donkey = mule

        See http://www.ruralheritage.com/mule_paddock/mule_com pare.htm [ruralheritage.com]

        Unless you mean honky. But that's a different branch of science.

    • Re:Viable? (Score:2, Informative)

      by aconbere (802137)
      They can't/won't mate to produce viable offspring with their parent species (the species that were mixed to create the new one). But they WILL mate with their own species. Thus the signifier of a new species: that is, they can't/won't mate outside of their own species.

      ~ Anders
    • Re:Viable? (Score:3, Informative)

      by cagle_.25 (715952)
      It was an unusual technique. The female hybrids were sterile; the males could interbreed with one of the parent species. After multiple crosses, the resulting hybrids of both genders were fertile, and preferred to interbreed rather than cross-breed with the original parent species. Link here [scienceblogs.com].
  • by neonprimetime (528653) on Monday June 19, 2006 @02:31PM (#15563104)
    In layman's terms...
    The study demonstrates that two animal species can evolve to form one, instead of the more common scenario where one species diverges to form two.
    • Hmm. I thought that if the offspring weren't sterile, then the parents aren't different species -- they are, instead, subspecies. I'm sure there's some grey area in the definition, any geneticists care to help out?

      Shoot, look at human albinos. Not sterile, and not a different species. But historically, some populations of humans refused to allow them to reproduce (or even to live, in some cases). My questions: did the researchers artificially inseminate the hybrids with sperm from the original specie
      • by enitime (964946) on Monday June 19, 2006 @03:42PM (#15563753)
        "Hmm. I thought that if the offspring weren't sterile, then the parents aren't different species -- they are, instead, subspecies. I'm sure there's some grey area in the definition, any geneticists care to help out?"


        Not only a gray area, there is no real definition of species. The consensus seems to be something along the lines of "distinct population groups that generally don't interbreed". Not that they can't, not that they don't, just that they usually don't.

        For example, I seem to recall that all (or maybe just most) of the members of the Canidae family (That's dogs, wolves, foxes, jackals etc.) can interbreed. I don't remember exactly though... it could have just been the Canis genus (dogs, wolves, jackals), or maybe I'm just mistaken. Anyone else know?

        • Dogs and wolves (and coyotes) can interbreed freely, and will do so given opportunity. The offspring are fertile without qualification.

          Dogs and foxes can and (rarely) do mate, but there are seldom offspring, and to my understanding any such offspring are sterile, like a mule (offspring of a horse and a donkey).

          I don't know about jackals.

          • Wasn't it the number of chromosomes that (partly) determines wether or not two species can interbreed? Different numbers won't mix is my guess...
            • Nope. That's not even true among primates (who are amongst the most intolerant of different chromosome numbers), and it's definately not true in general. While it can certainly signal some major genetic differences that might lead to incompatibility, it doesn't demonstrate them.

              Heck, there are many human beings walking around right now, today, with varying numbers of chromosomes, and they are not necessarily sterile. How this all works is immensely complicated (since there become tons of different combin
            • Number of chromosomes influences not so much whether they can interbreed (that can happen anyway if the total array isn't TOO different) but rather, whether the offspring are fertile or not. And even then it's not 100% -- frex, there have been a few fertile mules. But as a general rule, mammals (and AFAIK, birds) don't successfully crossbreed outside their own genus.

              But the further you get away from mammals, the fuzzier it gets. Frex, plants do all sorts of freaky things with chromosomes (and may have one,
    • That's not quite correct. It shows how two species can turn into three species.

      i.e., say you have some species the western part of some region, and another in the eastern part. As they migrate around, they may encounter each other and begin mating in the central part of the region. You now have the original species living in the west and east, and a new species in the middle.
  • marketing potential (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kalinago (978201) on Monday June 19, 2006 @02:32PM (#15563107) Homepage
    I once read an article about the possibilities of engineering butterfly wing patterns to produce, lets say, a well known brand logo. So you could have swarms of live "nike", "samsung" banners fluttering all over your garden.

    Guess this means we are one step closer to such reality. this is so Dystopian.
  • by Badgerman (19207) on Monday June 19, 2006 @02:34PM (#15563127)
    How long will it take for this to be dragged into the Intelligent Design community as "proof" that "Darwinism" is wrong for some reason?
    • How long will it take for this to be dragged into the Intelligent Design community as "proof" that "Darwinism" is wrong for some reason?

      You are misjudging fundamentalist christians. They don't talk about butterflies. The subject is just a little too 'flamboyant' and their rampant homophobia will stifle any conversation that might lead others to think, for any reason, that they might secretly be aroused by the thought of butt sex.

    • You've already been modded "Flamebait" :-)

  • The offspring is not only in line to become CEO of Butterfly Inc., but it also qualifies for subsidized loans from the National Association for the Advancement of Hybrid Butterflies.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    For a long time one argument of the creationists against evolution has been that scientists haven't witnessed speciation. Speciation was supposed to be the creation of a new species from another. The definition of a new species, at least as far as I was aware until recently, was that the individuals could not breed with one another and produce viable offspring.

    Maybe I am wrong on that definition of a species. I have seen numerous references to animals that can breed with one another as being different sp
    • by plunge (27239) on Monday June 19, 2006 @02:49PM (#15563262)
      The problem is that species is really only a very vaguely useful term. The line between "will not/cannot" breed with each other (and usually "in the wild" is added to this) is very very fuzzy, and there are many stages of compatibility in between, from sterile offspring, to rarely viable offspring, to rarely fertile offspring, and so on. Often species that will not breed in the wild under normal conditions will if conditions (or light levels, for instance) change.

      "The butterflies COULD breed with each other, the scientists just don't think they will try."

      As i noted, not reproducing without human intervention IS a barrier for defining speciation. That's why spinner dolphins and false killer whales are considered different species, even though wolphins exist in captivity. Chiclids, for instance, will only mate with certain colored fellow chiclids, but if you alter the light conditions so that they cannot make out the distinctions, then they will mate.

      And so on.

      One thing that I often find strange is that given the wide wide range of diversity amongst animals that are all of the same species (say, domestic dogs), people find it so hard to believe that speciation can happen, especially given that many genetically incompatible species are far far more similar to each other than dogs are morphologically. Two populations becoming genetically incompatible is really not much different from how they become visually different: it's just that the genetic changes in question happen to be working on more core reproductive elements rather than outward looks.
      • Does that mean hot blonde supermodel chicks and slashdot geeks are different species? :)
    • The definition of species is not as simple as you seem to think. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species#Definitions_o f_species [wikipedia.org] for a definition.
  • by nblender (741424) on Monday June 19, 2006 @02:41PM (#15563196)
    Cane Toads?
  • by justkarl (775856) on Monday June 19, 2006 @02:44PM (#15563223) Homepage
    because we can now call it a "super-butterfly". It has all of the traits of the other butterflies, including super-strength, "butterfly-sense", and agility. Eventually

    Think of the poor bastard superhero who is created by getting bit by this "super-butterfly" and has to live out his days with the secret identity of BUTTERFLY-MAN!!!
  • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Monday June 19, 2006 @02:47PM (#15563246) Homepage Journal
    So what new and exciting effects will we get when these fancy new butterflies flap their wings? [wikipedia.org]
  • When I went to school, the word "species" signified the widest variation of biologic form which could interbreed to create fertile offspring. A horse and a donkey, for example, were considered to be different 'species' because although the could be interbred, their offspring were (99.9999%) infertile and could not reproduce "after their own kind."

    Speciation is not determined by the organisms' willingness to interbreed but by whether or not a cross-breed between them can be genetically viable.

    Now th

    • Well, the importance of the research is still there, since the unwillingness to breed with the hybrid offspring indicates a method by which speciation occurs. Basically, it indicates isolation of the subspecies via absolute preferential breeding, instead of geographic isolation preventing interbreeding, which is the most common hypothesis for branching speciation instead of linear evolution.
    • genetics changed their understanding of the term.

      I understand your annoyance - by the current definition of a "reproductively distinct population" the various races of man were different "species" until the advent of large scale immigration - which caused all these species to collapse into a single species.

      But, at the same time, you can't really blame the scientists - it's not their fault that after centuries of carefully classifying creatures based on what they saw the creatures doing, DNA analysis comes a
      • I understand your annoyance - by the current definition of a "reproductively distinct population" the various races of man were different "species" until the advent of large scale immigration - which caused all these species to collapse into a single species.

        Okay, so show me the scientist who will publicly say that Europeans and Africans were separate "species", and ask them when they think the species "merged". No, the fact is that so-called scientists are using whichever definition is most convenient

        • I was pointing out the illogic of the current definition of "species" - not claiming that the different races were different species.
        • "No, the fact is that so-called scientists are using whichever definition is most convenient for their purpose at the time. That is what annoys me."

          But since that's not actually what's happening, the real problem here is that you are confused about what is going on.

          "Personally, I think we should stick with the old definition."

          First of all, that wasn't the "old definition." You were simply misinformed, or misunderstood. Unless you are around 80 years old, the biological species concept (i.e. populations tha
    • Biologists themselves admit that "species" has no universally accepted, absolute definition. In fact all levels of taxonomy are subjected to constant scrutiny, and major revisions are entirely possible. To wit: in the last 15 years or so the "domain," a level above "kingdom," has become commonly accepted. We're talking about the highest level of the taxonomy changing due to persuasive new arguments. And yet you're telling me scientists never change due to their egotism?

      The world is much wilder than you im

    • The problem is, nature isn't very good at fitting into the tidy little categories that appear in all our textbooks. This is why scientists keep having to re-evaluate those categories whenever they find something that doesn't fit, and sometimes, yes, definitions change.

      I've read about one particular trio of species where species A could breed with species B (producing viable offspring), species B could breed with species C (again, producing viable offspring), but species A could not breed with species C.
    • by SEE (7681)
      Um? Just because you were taught a definition of "species" in school doesn't mean that's the actual definition.

      There a serious difficulties with the "interbreeding makes viable, reproduction-capable offspring" one. One is that it isn't binary. There is an entire range over "no descendants", "sterile descendants", "high miscarriage rate but some nonsterile descendants", and a dozen other variations. If the result of a crossbreeding is 90% of the time spontaneous abortion, but 10% of the time a fertile an
    • "after their own kind."

      Sorry, but this term never had much meaning in terms of science. Science demands that you be specific and precise. "After their own kind" is like a kindergardner-level of understanding of biology.

      "Speciation is not determined by the organisms' willingness to interbreed but by whether or not a cross-breed between them can be genetically viable."

      The problem is, there is no hard and fast line for what this means either. Often species that we thought could never be genetically viable w
  • (I am not an ichtiologist but my father is), mixing species of fish is rather easy (as mixing sperm and eggs of similar ones) and can happen by coincidence. I guess it's even easier with insects since they are more complicated creatures.
  • I, for one, welcome our new butterfly overlords.
  • by blueZ3 (744446) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:18PM (#15564076) Homepage
    Let me guess, one wing is red, one blue, one green, and one yellow, and each wing has a tiny spot that looks strangely like the letters "m" and "s"
  • ...if it was a half-elf butterfly.
  • And just how many genes were "made redundant" by this merger? Think of the alleles going hungry tonight because their parent chromosomes have lost their jobs. It's capitalism run wild, I tell you...
  • I find it interesting that H. cydno and H. melpomene would mate, yet neither would mate with H. heurippa.
  • Unfortunately, the monarch species has field a suit with the Federal Trade Commission, claiming that the merger creates a monopoly on frangiapana pollination, which they are attempting to leverage into a hostile milkweed pod takeover.

  • How does the butterfly know what its own wings look like? I can understand selective breeding changing the patterns on the wings. Doesn't the article imply a simultaneous change to the butterfly's brain to make it want to mate with individuals displaying the new pattern, and shun those with either of the parent patterns? What mechanism keeps those two changes in lockstep? Wouldn't it be more likely that the hybrid butterflys would be attracted to one or the other parent species, who would reject them be
  • Is hybrid speciation related to symbiogenesis? It sounds like they are compatable, anyway. The only difference being that I think symbiogenesis is macro-evolution, while hybrid speciation would be considered micro. According to Lynn Margulis, an examply of symbiogenesis includes things like mitochondria and cloroplasts, which apparently were absorbed into another species by a predatory action, and then the new result was considered a seprate species. (Admitting, there's is also a popular theory that the

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