Researchers from Indiana University explored how genes function by switching off orthodenticle genes associated with head development in dung beetles. Once the dung beetles developed along with the absence of their orthodenticle genes, the beetles failed to develop their usual horns, or they were much smaller in size, and most astoundingly, the beetles developed a third eye.
This amazed scientists since all other animals fail to develop a brain if their orthodenticle (OTD) genes are switched off. OTD genes exist in just about every animal from simple invertebrates to complex mammals. In addition to the odd result of the dung beetle experiment, the researchers switched off the same genes in a flour beetle, but the flour beetle did not demonstrate the same results. What is notable about this experiment is that switching off these genes naturally prevents the formation of certain features of the dung beetle’s head, but it also turns on the development of complex structures, like eyes. But why is this?
Scientists believe that this research demonstrates that the genes that are expressed in tissues where they have no function, find a new function by creating entirely new physical traits. It has been noted in the past that genes do indeed find new functions, but the genes need to be activated at the right time and in the right environment. But scientists are at a loss as to why this particular beetle developed a third eye.
Do you think that the dung beetle developed a third eye because the beetle could better adapt to its environment with a new third eye?