Sunday, August 8, 2021

First US Case of Human-Led Insect Extinction Confirmed by DNA From 93-Year-Old Butterfly

 93-Year-Old Xerces Blue Butterfly Specimen

 The Xerces blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces) is thought of to be the first insect species being drove to extinction by humans, with the rapid urbanization in the San Francisco area in the 1940s playing a role. There has been a lot of question over if this butterfly was in fact a separate species or just a sub-population of a common butterfly but researchers have taken a specimen from a museum collection and analyzed its DNA and found that is was, in fact, its own species. Researchers were able to extract a piece of a specimen's body and sample and treat the tissues in order to separate the DNA and analyze it. While the specimen was over ninety three years old and DNA does degrade over time, its stability helps slow down the degradation. 


Researchers continue to analyze DNA of extinct species when possible for a multitude of reasons. The first is the possibility of bringing extinct species back to life. While this seems like a good reverse of damage that was done, they do argue conservation of still living species should be the focus. Another is to see what we can learn from them to further our current conservation efforts. This study specifically shows the relationship between humans and insects, the latter of which is experiencing a high level of extinction which could affect all ecosystems severely. This also shows the importance of museum collections and other specimens for future use and study.

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