The monarch butterfly circadian clock: from clockwork mechanisms to control of seasonal migration.
Dr. Christine Merlin
Department of Biology, Texas A&M University
Christine Merlin received her Ph.D in Insect Physiology from the University Pierre and Marie Curie in France in 2006. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Neurobiology Department at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 2013. Since 2013, she is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University and a member of the Center for Research on Biological Clocks, the Texas A&M Institute for Neuroscience, and a faculty of Genetics.
The eastern North American monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) has emerged as a powerful model system to study animal circadian clocks and their role in an unconventional output, the photoperiod-induced long-distance migration. Circadian clocks are endogenous 24-hour timekeepers that coordinate nearly all of the animal physiology and behavior to its environment to tune specific activities at the most advantageous time of the day. Monarchs use a circadian clock to navigate to their overwintering sites during their seasonal long-distance migration. The clock time-compensates for the movement of the sun across the sky over the course of the day and regulates the sun compass output in the brain. Circadian clocks could also be used to time the monarch seasonal departure from their breeding grounds, and consequently regulate the genetic/epigenetic program controlling migratory physiology and behavior. I will discuss progress that our lab has made in developing reverse-genetics in the monarch butterfly to unlock its potential as a genetic model system to study animal clockwork mechanisms and the involvement of the circadian clock in insect photoperiodic responses.