Researchers from the University of Manitoba have identified the genetic code by which butterflies can assign color patterns to different parts of their wings during development. The code is based on a set of genes that establish compartments in perhaps all insect wings. Each compartment, can evolve different color patterns independently from the other compartments. They don’t know yet what genes are responsible for making this compartment boundary, but each compartment is likely defined by a different combination of genetics that uniquely identify it.
Their work also shows that research has the potential to teach the scientific community many fundamental aspects of developmental biology that may not be apparent from research with more traditional systems and fruit flies. In butterflies, we can use the color patterns as landmarks, making the underlying developmental architecture of all insect wings more obvious. Read more about this study at Entomology Today.