Here are a few photos from the Heliconius meeting this summer – thanks to Denise for these.
This is a time lapse video of coordinated feeding in Heliconius doris caterpillars, eating a leaf of Passiflora ambigua
Filmed in Gamboa with my iPhone
We are pleased to announce the 10th International Heliconius meeting. The meeting is a celebration of research into the origins and evolution of the adaptive radiation within Heliconius and related species. The topics will include genomics, behaviour, mimicry and ecology of Heliconius butterflies.
The meeting will be hosted by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and will take place on July 25-26th in Gamboa, Panama. In addition to research talks and posters, there will be several breakout sessions and workshops.
If you haven’t done so and are are interested in attending the meeting please contact Owen McMillan (mcmillano(at)si.edu) today. In that e-mail please indicate 1) the dates of your visit, 2) if you are interested in presenting a talk or poster and 3) housing preference [Gamboa Rainforest Resort (posh), shared room in the ridge housing (dorm-like), or a bed in the mostly restored Gamboa School House (camp-like)].
Keith Brown and Larry Gilbert in Gamboa, Panama
At a rough count, we reckon this must be the tenth meeting (The first one I went to was organised by me in Panama, but Bob Srygley assured me that there was an earlier one so we called Panama the second, and since then 2 in Harvard, 2 in Puerto Rico, 1 in Cambridge, 1 in Paris, 1 in Edinburgh)…. so we need to celebrate!
Many of you have already let Owen know that you are coming – if you haven’t done so already please email and let us know. In due course we will post more information about accommodation and take schedules here. We are also giving serious consideration to the social schedule!
|Steven Van Belleghem||10:00|
|Dr Pasi M. A. Rastas||10:50|
|Gilbert, Lawrence E||11:50|
|Denise Dalbosco Dell’Aglio||10:50|
We have now fixed the dates for the Heliconius meeting in Panama for the 25/26 July. The plan is to arrive on the 24th and leave on 27th. Of course you are welcome to stay longer, but we cannot provide accommodation so that would then be up to you to organise this with STRI or otherwise. Sorry but there is very little flexibility in dates due to availability of the Schoolhouse where we are going to hold the talks and provide meals, so these are now non-negotiable dates.
The accommodation options are:
1) Dorm style bunks in the Gamboa schoolhouse – cheap shared accommodation
2) Shared apartments on the Ridge – likely to be limited availability but a bit more privacy
3) High end accommodation at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort http://www.gamboaresort.com/default-en.html
Please let Owen know which you would prefer, and whether you are likely to attend the meeting. It also might be helpful if you could also indicate whether you would like to present a talk or poster.
Please note that accommodation gets very full in Gamboa over the summer, so we strongly advise that you organise soon if you would like to spend longer in Gamboa around the meeting.
All the best
Owen and I would like to propose a Heliconius meeting in Panama later this year. The tentative dates are first week of August – week beginning 3rd August 2015. We can book out the Gamboa Schoolhouse in August which will give us a venue in Gamboa, so we don’t have to deal with traffic going into the City (some of you may remember that last time we took a bus into Tupper).
There is ‘dorm room’ accommodation in the schoolhouse, or high end accommodation in the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, and there may also be some STRI apartments available at that time in Gamboa. We would also try and organise a couple of field trips to see some butterflies around Gamboa and perhaps further afield.
For the moment, it would be helpful if we could just get a consensus on the dates – we are fairly limited in flexibility as the following week (10-14 August) is ESEB in europe, and beforehand I will not be in Gamboa for most of July, but please let me know if you can think of a good reason why these dates are a terrible idea.
I am not sure how many people get this email – so please forward to anyone not on the heliconius mailing list and perhaps get them to sign up.
Hope to see many of you in Panama later this year!
Every living animal and plant starts its life as a single cell. The cell then divides many times, and the end result is a fully functioning organism, like a rose bush or a horsefly or you or Brian Blessed. A human is made of quadrillions of cells, but they all come from that one initial fertilized egg. All (or at least most) of the information that makes you you can be compacted town to one nucleus of one single cell, and then read out in such a way that when that one cell starts to divide quadrillions of times, the new cells congeal into an all-signing, all-dancing organism-y thing. I think this is pretty awesome, and thinking about these problems has led me to working on a PhD studying Heliconius butterflies. This post is a personal perspective on this problem and how I came to study butterflies.
Joe Hanly….or Henry Walter Bates?
The processes that make an animal from a single egg are controlled in such a way that they will always make a pretty accurate version of that animal. This process is really repeatable. Hold your hands together. They’re pretty much exactly the same size and shape, correct? In fact, I’d hazard a guess that your hands are more or less the same shape as the hands of all the other humans you know, too. All of the hands of all humans, including your own two hands, were put together completely independently of each other, yet in most cases they are pretty much perfectly formed (apologies to readers with polysyndactly. And to amputees).
How does that work? How does a hand come to be a hand, and what are the physical mechanisms that can build hands so perfectly and repeatably? How about feet, how do they happen – I guess in a similar way to hands, but with some differences? How does one make a face? I be that’s probably pretty different from the way you make a hand, right? Lungs? Wings? Shells? Roots? I’ve always wondered about how all this stuff gets put together from one egg. I always enjoyed learning about science at school, and studied Biology, Chemistry, Maths and History for my A-levels, and so when I was 17 and I actually had to start deciding what I wanted to do with my life, I decided to go and do a course in Developmental Biology at the University of Manchester.
While I was there, I actually learnt about how hands and faces and lungs and other bits develop, and why we think the process is so symmetrically perfect and repeatable. I’m not going to talk about that here (if you’re interested in these things, then I’ve put some useful links below), but while I was learning about this, I started realise there were even more questions I hadn’t really even considered before.
Firstly, I got really interested in gene regulation. For living things to function, they need to make proteins from genes. While some of these proteins need to be present in all places at all times (for example, the genes important for respiration) others need to be turned on or off in specific places and at specific times, for example, the proteins that make melanin pigments, or the proteins that form the structure of bone. If the proteins that make bones were present everywhere throughout your body, you’d be in trouble. It turns out that while we know quite a bit about the process of turning genes on and off, there is still a lot to be found.
I also got really interested in the way that gene regulation can relate to evolution. Over time, the physical form that a species develops will change in response to selection. Sometimes, these changes might involve the evolution of entirely new proteins or changes to existing proteins, but it turns out that the simplest and most common change that leads to differences in morphology actually affect the ways that genes are turned on and off.
When I finished my degree I decided that I wanted to continue studying science, so I applied for funding for a PhD from the Wellcome Trust, and came to study at the University of Cambridge. I’m working on Heliconius because it turns out to be a good system for investigating how differences in gene regulation can evolve, as we have one species with many different pattern forms, and we can use these patterns to gain an understanding of how the genetics which control phenotypic differences work. I’ll talk more about this in another post, though.
This year the annual Heliconius 2014 meeting will be hosted by the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus from June 4th to June 6th. The meeting will be immediately prior to the SMBE meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico (http://www.smbe.org/).
You can find a brief description of the Heliconius 2014 meeting at the following webpage: http://heliconius.wix.com/heliconiusmeeting
Please register using the form found on the website (http://heliconius.wix.com/heliconiusmeeting).
Breakfast and lunch will be provided for the three days of the meeting and special rate at the UPR housing ($50 per night) will be offered by request (see form on the webpage) to the participants. Possibility to extend the stay at the University housing will also be offered to the participants if requested (especially for the ones that will present at the SMBE meeting).
This may be a dangerous thing to say, but things seem to be going well with our planning for the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition this year, which will be held from 30 June until 6 July. We were selected from many applicants, and will be among ~20 stands from all aspects of UK science. The exhibition attracts around 12,000 visitors during the week ranging from school groups, general public through to the FRSs.
We have now raised almost £20K from a wide variety of sources, including significant contributions from the Herchel-Smith Fund and the Department of Zoology in Cambridge. There is still a small shortfall on our anticipated budget, but we will certainly be able to do most of the things we had planned. We have also assembled a great team to support us including Natasha Jarvis (filmmaker), Dave Griffiths (computer game), Mark from Cambridge Design Studios (exhibit design). Several of these projects are now well underway.
We want to invite anyone else who works on Heliconius to come along – it should be a great opportunity to talk about what we do to a receptive audience. We cant pay for travel but may be able to provide accommodation in a shared house that we will rent for the week in London. Do let us know if you are interested.
We have been chosen to present a stand at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in July this year. We will be presenting our work on butterfly wing patterns and genomes to over 10,000 people including the press and the Fellows of the Royal Society.
Right now we have lots of ambitious plans including a video about the work, with footage from field trips to Panama and Surinam. A computer game that includes aspects of wing pattern genetics and something about mimicry selection. A cage with live butterflies. And an exhibit with some of Bates’ original correspondence with Darwin on the subject of mimicry and speciation.
We’ll keep you posted as the plans progress.
My lab has recently started a new initiative called JournalPub! (I believe the exclamation mark is essential). The idea is that this is a weekly event and anyone interested goes to the pub to read and discuss a classic or important paper. So far its been focussing on the Heliconius literature, although it needn’t be restricted to that. The difference from a typical journal club is that there is no expectation to attend if you dont want to read the paper, and that you dont have to read anything before turning up. Oh, and there is beer available at the bar. A further development is that we hope to write a short post about each paper on this blog, to start to generate an annotated list of some interesting or important Heliconius literature.
So I went for the first time last night and we discussed this paper:
I am quite familiar with the paper already, since it was fairly recently published when I started my graduate studies with Jim in 1993. He had spent over a year living in Peru with a battered LandCruiser, translocating butterflies across a hybrid zone in order to measure selection in the wild. The essence of the experiment is that butterflies were translocated, marked and released. Controls were moved to a population in which they had the same wing pattern as the local butterflies, while experimentals were moved a similar distance but into a population with a very different wing pattern. So-called Native Controls were locally marked and released back into their own population. A likelihood approach (calculated manually in those days) was used to fit two parameters – a probability of establishment and a subsequent probability of survival. The Experimentals had a greatly reduced probability of establishment as compared to controls, but subsequent survival was similar for both. This suggests an initial strong burst of predation soon after release. Possibly the birds are likely to attack novel patterns at first but there are only a few predators in the local area and they soon learn the novel pattern also.
The paper also discussed alternative explanations for thre reduced survival of experimentals – notably some other form of local adaptation unrelated to wing pattern. Translocation distance had no effect on survival arguing against this explanation although it is hard to rule out completely. The authors say in the discussion that ‘..it would be perverse to assume that selection due to predation is unimportant.’ – thats perhaps over-egging the pudding a bit, but perhaps a little bit of frustration with reviewers was showing through at this point.
The paper was important, as it still stands as perhaps the best experimental demonstration of mimicry selection in the wild and provides an explanation for the stability of narrow wing pattern hybrid zones in Heliconius.
When things were going badly in the field, I was always inspired by Jim’s story of this experiment – having spent six months collecting data he was disillusioned and depressed about the lack of significant results. Nick Barton, like the messiah of evolutionary biology, came down to visit. On a pocket calculator he worked out a likelihood model and showed that the experiment was significant. Time for a bottle of Cusquenya?