ScienceDaily: Scientists uncover key genes that control insect migrations

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Scientists have found more than 1,500 genetic differences in hoverflies between non-migratory and migratory species.

University of Exeter’s team captured migrating insects flying through a mountain pass and sequenced active gene to identify the genes that control their migration behaviour.

The genetic information was then compared with that of summer hoverflies, which are non-migrating.

Toby Doyle, lead author of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, said that they identified 1,543 genes whose activity levels varied in migrants.

“What was most striking to us was the amazing range of roles these genes play.

“Migration can be very stressful and energetically demanding. We found genes that regulate metabolism, muscle structure, hormone regulation of physiology and immunity.

Every autumn, millions of migratory hoverflies depart northern Europe to make the long-distance trip south.

They journey through the Pyrenees to reach their destination, where they find refuge through high-altitude passes.

Dr Karl Wotton said, “It’s an incredible spectacle to see, an endless stream hundreds of thousands of people through a 30-metre pass.”

The researchers began to order these genes according to function and discovered that a number of genes were being activated together: pathways for immunity, insulin signalling for long-term longevity, and pathways for insulin production.

Dr Wotton stated that these pathways were integrated into migratory hoverflies, and then modified by evolution to enable long-distance movement.

This research provides an excellent genomic resource as well as a theoretical framework for future research on the evolution and migration.

Dr Wotton stated that it was an exciting time in the study of genetics of migration.

“Our research has already identified several genes previously associated with migration in butterflies. This suggests the existence of a common’migratory gene pack’ that regulates migration across multiple animals.”

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MaterialsProvided by University of Exeter. Notice: Content can be edited to improve style and length.

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