"Monarch Butterfly" by Richiebits / Public Domain

These Butterflies Evolved to Eat Poison. How Could That Have Happened?

Oct 3, 2019

By Carl Zimmer

Monarch butterflies eat only milkweed, a poisonous plant that should kill them. The butterflies thrive on it, even storing milkweed toxins in their bodies as a defense against hungry birds.

For decades, scientists have marveled at this adaptation. On Thursday, a team of researchers announced they had pinpointed the key evolutionary steps that led to it.

Only three genetic mutations were necessary to turn the butterflies from vulnerable to resistant, the researchers reported in the journal Nature. They were able to introduce these mutations into fruit flies, and suddenly they were able to eat milkweed, too.

Biologists hailed it as a tour-de-force that harnessed gene-editing technology to unscramble a series of mutations evolving in some species and then test them in yet another.

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One comment on “These Butterflies Evolved to Eat Poison. How Could That Have Happened?”

  • I think this will come to be seen as a *monumental* advance in evolutionary biology. The expression of one mutation being dependent on a previous mutation. This *totally* takes the legs out of the arguments of creationists who try to claim that co-evolution can’t occur because the survival advantage of mutations would take too long to propagate into a species’ population!

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