This mysterious moth suddenly turned black during the Industrial Revolution, and no one could figure out why -- until now.
Why did the peppered moth turn black during the Industrial Revolution? Scientists think they have an answer to one of science’s most baffling mysteries.
The black form of the peppered moth suddenly started showing up in industrial parts of the UK in the 1800s, matching its suddenly soot-blackened surroundings, according to a University of Liverpool statement.
Now, researchers have found the incredibly evolutionary explanation for this phenomenon, and even pinpointed 1819 as the most likely date the mutation happened.
The study, published in the journal nature, says the gene that it allowed it do this is the same that tropical butterflies use to switch colors.
The black moths were first spotted in 1848, 10 years before Charles Darwin had outlined the concept of natural selection. It represented a highly unusual opportunity to observe the concept in action.
The typical form of the peppered moth, which is a mottled white and black, didn’t go away but remained in the countryside, while the black moths flourished in the city. When clean air laws came into effect in the latter half of the 20th century, the speckled version made a resurgence.
“Jumping genes, more formally known as transposable elements (TEs), are mobile segments of DNA that can change their position within a genome and alter the expression of other genes,” the statement notes. “Using fine-scale linkage and association mapping combined with next-generation DNA sequencing, the team established that a large transposable element, inserted within the moth’s cortex gene, was responsible for the colour change.”
Co-author Dr Arjen van’t Hof added: “These findings provide an opportunity to further develop peppered moth industrial melanism as a tool for teaching evolutionary biology and the genetic basis of adaptation.”