Parasitic wasps made Monarch butterflies ‘natural GMOs’ through horizontal gene transfer

Genomes of several species of butterflies and moths, including the Monarch butterfly, contain genes from parasitic wasps and viruses due to naturally occurring gene transfer taking place over millions of years, according to a study in PLoS Genetics. When some wasps laid their eggs inside caterpillars, viruses transferred various genes into the butterfly genome. Some genes gave protection against viruses, giving the butterflies an evolutionary advantage and therefore the genes were retained over evolutionary time.


Dr. Peter W. Atkinson, Divisional Dean of Life Sciences, Professor of Genetics, College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of California, Riverside (webpage):

Expertise: genetics of medically and agriculturally important insects; molecular-based strategies to genetically control pest insects

“I am not surprised by the findings. Horizontal transfer of genetic material between species, usually by transposable elements and viruses, is now well accepted.  While this occurs at a low frequency, the potential impacts on a species can be high if the genetic material transferred is favored through natural selection.  I think it highlights the need to understand how such transfer occurs and how these genetic sequences interact with their new host genomes.   This will enable us to better understand the consequences of horizontal transfer, be it natural or be facilitated by genetic engineering.”


Declared interests (see GENeS register of interests policy):

No interests declared




Recurrent Domestication by Lepidoptera of Genes from Their Parasites Mediated by Bracoviruses‘ by Gasmi et al published in PLoS Genetics on Thursday 17 September 2015.

Please feel free to leave your comments below, but be aware that by doing so you agree to our Terms & Conditions.