Scientists identify gene that makes water striders glide across water

Aug 13, 2009 By Kim Luke

(PhysOrg.com) -- Water striders, the familiar semi-aquatic bugs gliding across the lake at the cottage, have a novel body form that allows them to walk on water. This was not always the case. Achieving the gliding ability required the evolution of a unique arrangement of the legs, with the mid-legs greatly elongated. Scientists at the University of Toronto's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology have discovered the gene behind this evolutionary change.

Called the Hox gene, Ultrabithorax, is known to play a role in lengthening legs in other insects. Professor Locke Rowe and his team investigated where Ultrabithorax is expressed and how it functions in the water strider body plan using the cutting edge tools of molecular biology. "To our surprise, we discovered that Ultrabithorax performs opposite functions in different limbs," says Rowe. "It lengthens the mid-legs but shortens the hind-legs to establish this unusual body plan that allows water striders to glide on the water surface."

Groups of organisms are characterized by a few defining characteristics. In the case of humans it is walking upright and in the case of spiders it is eight legs. It is these defining characteristics that account for much of the diversity we see in life. Determining how these major evolutionary changes happen is a central goal of , explains Rowe. "Many have marveled at the ability of water striders to walk on , and we are excited to have discovered the gene that has affected this ."

The work is published in .

Source: University of Toronto (news : web)

Explore further: A clear, molecular view of how human color vision evolved

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Solving another mystery of an amazing water walker

Dec 10, 2007

Walking on water may seem like a miracle to humans, but it is a ho-hum for the water strider and scientists who already solved the mystery of that amazing ability. Now researchers in Korea are reporting a ...

Hidden genitalia in female water striders makes males 'sing'

Jun 11, 2009

In a study published in PLoS ONE June 10, Chang Seok Han and Piotr Jablonski at Seoul National University, Korea, report that by evolving a morphological shield to protect their genitalia from males' forceful copulatory attemp ...

Robot walks on water

Jul 11, 2007

Water striders, insects that walk on the surface of the water, may never set foot on land in their lives, and yet they’re not swimmers. Over the past million or so years, this insect—sometimes called a ...

Carry on walking!

Mar 31, 2007

The next time you are struggling to carry your bags home from the supermarket just remember that this could, in fact, be the reason you are able to walk upright on two legs at all! How we have evolved to walk on two legs ...

It's a bug's life: MIT team tells moving tale

Sep 28, 2005

MIT mathematicians have discovered how certain insects can climb what to them are steep, slippery slopes in the water's surface without moving their limbs -- and do it at high speed.

Recommended for you

Contrasting views of kin selection assessed

Dec 17, 2014

In an article to be published in the January issue of BioScience, two philosophers tackle one of the most divisive arguments in modern biology: the value of the theory of "kin selection."

Microbiome may have shaped early human populations

Dec 16, 2014

We humans have an exceptional age structure compared to other animals: Our children remain dependent on their parents for an unusually long period and our elderly live an extremely long time after they have ...

DNA sheds light on why largest lemurs disappeared

Dec 16, 2014

Ancient DNA extracted from the bones and teeth of giant lemurs that lived thousands of years ago in Madagascar may help explain why the giant lemurs went extinct. It also explains what factors make some surviving ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.