Science Questions

Would the genes be different for dark and light moths?

Sun, 29th Jun 2008

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Question

TR Amat, Second Life asked:

If you look at the genes of the Peppered Moth what would you see? What would be the differences between the two colours?

Answer

We put this question to Dr Remy Ware:

Remy -  Thatís a great question.  Indeed this crucial genotype-phenotype link is what we are after really in evolutionary genetics.  As yet we havenít really looked in much detail at the genome of the Peppered Moth but what is quite comforting is that we have very good sequence data from related Lepidoptera species, such as the commercial silk worm Bombyx mori and also some of the papillary butterflies.  Their genomes are quite well-studied and itís possible that we can look for candidate genes within those and transfer it.

A similar approach has been used in another species which shows melanism.  The rock pocket mouse which is a lovely little thing found in North America and you have a melanic variety of this mouse which rests on a dark surface produced by larval flow compared to the normal form which is a sort of fawn colour.  This species theyíve actually found the gene responsible for this polymorphism.  Theyíve found the gene responsible for the melanism which is due to the melanocortin 1 receptor gene.  Itís this particular gene thatís mutated in that form of mice.  Thatís an example where we do have this link between the genotype and phenotype.  Thatís rather often used as a criticism of the Peppered Moth case in that itís lacking.  The concept of being able to identify whatís going on genetically is really exciting.

Ben -  If Iím right genotype is what the genes actually show you and phenotype is what we see on the outside.  Phenotype would be the fact that it is a dark mouse.

Remy - Yes so a phenotype is produced both by the action of genes and the action of the environment.  The phenotype is sort of the physical manifestation of different factors causing a particular trait.  They are genetics and environmental factors.

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