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Butterfly genome reveals promiscuous exchange of mimicry adaptations among species

Smithsonian Libraries
The evolutionary importance of hybridization and introgression has long been debated(1). Hybrids are usually rare and unfit, but even infrequent hybridization can aid adaptation by transferring beneficial traits between species. Here we use genomic tools to investigate introgression in Heliconius, a rapidly radiating genus of neotropical butterflies widely used in studies of ecology, behaviour, mimicry and speciation(2-5). We sequenced the genome of Heliconius melpomene and compared it with other taxa to investigate chromosomal evolution in Lepidoptera and gene flow among multiple Heliconius species and races. Among 12,669 predicted genes, biologically important expansions of families of chemosensory and Hox genes are particularly noteworthy. Chromosomal organization has remained broadly conserved since the Cretaceous period, when butterflies split from the Bombyx (silkmoth) lineage. Using genomic resequencing, we show hybrid exchange of genes between three co-mimics, Heliconius melpomene, Heliconius timareta and Heliconius elevatus, especially at two genomic regions that control mimicry pattern. We infer that closely related Heliconius species exchange protective colour-pattern genes promiscuously, implying that hybridization has an important role in adaptive radiation.

Genomic Hotspots for Adaptation: The Population Genetics of Mullerian Mimicry in the Heliconius melpomene Clade

Smithsonian Libraries
Wing patterning in Heliconius butterflies is a longstanding example of both Mullerian mimicry and phenotypic radiation under strong natural selection. The loci controlling such patterns are "hotspots" for adaptive evolution with great allelic diversity across different species in the genus. We characterise nucleotide variation, genotype-by-phenotype associations, linkage disequilibrium, and candidate gene expression at two loci and across multiple hybrid zones in Heliconius melpomene and relatives. Alleles at HmB control the presence or absence of the red forewing band, while alleles at HmYb control the yellow hindwing bar. Across HmYb two regions, separated by similar to 100 kb, show significant genotype-by-phenotype associations that are replicated across independent hybrid zones. In contrast, at HmB a single peak of association indicates the likely position of functional sites at three genes, encoding a kinesin, a G-protein coupled receptor, and an mRNA splicing factor. At both HmYb and HmB there is evidence for enhanced linkage disequilibrium (LD) between associated sites separated by up to 14 kb, suggesting that multiple sites are under selection. However, there was no evidence for reduced variation or deviations from neutrality that might indicate a recent selective sweep, consistent with these alleles being relatively old. Of the three genes showing an association with the HmB locus, the kinesin shows differences in wing disc expression between races that are replicated in the co-mimic, Heliconius erato, providing striking evidence for parallel changes in gene expression between Mullerian co-mimics. Wing patterning loci in Heliconius melpomene therefore show a haplotype structure maintained by selection, but no evidence for a recent selective sweep. The complex genetic pattern contrasts with the simple genetic basis of many adaptive traits studied previously, but may provide a better model for most adaptation in natural populations that has arisen over millions rather than tens of years.

Hustle through America's Huckster History with a Smithsonian Curator as Your Guide

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1962 Andy Warhol transformed cardboard Brillo grocery cartons into plywood and silkscreened replications that became art. Was he making a resonant cultural statement, or was he working his own playful con?

Warhol, a leading commercial artist, embraced Madison Avenue’s love of ambiguity and reconfigured it as art in the early 1960s. He understood the world where commercial images blurred the line between necessity and desire, between real and replicated. His was the age of “Is it real, or is it Memorex?”

(original image)

So the David O. Russell-directed film American Hustle fits right in. The film is emerging as a crowd favorite, having garnered three Golden Globes and ten Academy Award nominations. Loosely-inspired by the 1970s Abscam scandal, an FBI sting operation that snagged several members of Congress accepting bribes, American Hustle and its marvelous cast connects to America’s love affair with confidence men, hucksters and charming rascals.

We are enraptured by scoundrels. They showcase our passion for ingenuity and resourcefulness. Rules don’t matter in a culture that constantly reinvents itself. In the world of flimflam, con artists are American prototypes who exemplify the land of opportunity. Aren’t we all searching for the trickster Wizard at the end of the yellow brick road?

The sheer joy of American Hustle is its portrait of people who hustle. Christian Bale’s velvet suits and extravagant comb-over; Amy Adams’ plunging necklines (waistlines?); Jennifer Lawrence (Bale’s scene-stealing wife) in gowns that fluff-up with feathers and sparkle with rhinestones; Bradley Cooper (the beyond-the-fringe FBI agent) in his creepy suits and itty-bitty spit curls; and Jeremy Renner, his face marvelously distorted, as the well-meaning mayor of Camden who gets duped.

Costumes are central to creating their portrayals. In an interview with The New York Times, costume designer Michael Wilkinson said, “We wanted the actors to use their costumes as part of their hustle. They dress as the person they aspire to be.” Wilkinson explained that his approach was to use “silhouette, fabric, color, drape” to tell the story.

(original image)

 Our cultural history is pockmarked with colorful portraits of these characters. In the mid-19th century, the con artist was featured in Herman Melville’s last published book, The Confidence- Man: His Masquerade. Set on a riverboat traveling down the Mississippi River, the 1857 novel tells the tale of what happens when the Devil, dressed in disguise, boards the vessel to conduct the business of evil.

Melville wrote this book because he was outraged at the way America was allowing capitalism to nurture a culture of greed. The Confidence-Man is a complicated diatribe, but New York Times critic Peter G. Davis phrased it succinctly in a 1982 magazine article stating that the book was a “microcosm of America’s melting pot…a loosely knit collection of fables” in which the title character uses his guile to dupe each passenger on the riverboat. In each instance, the Confidence Man/Devil works a con against “the nineteenth century American Dream of optimism, truth, altruism and trust.”

Mark Twain, too, took up the art of the con. Like Melville, he used Mississippi riverboats to stage the antics of his flimflam men. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn opens with Huck’s warning that while the author might sometimes stretch the truth, “he told the truth, mainly.”  Twain relishes the art of the con and unleashes flimflam men throughout the novel, but he allows Huck to succeed: the boy’s instinct is sound, and his character remains unsullied by temptation. A recent assessment in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune suggests that “Huck Finn” is about the folly of ever trusting the fashionable morality of one’s own time and place. Any time, any place.”

(original image)

Con men weren’t always fictional. One of the greatest, P.T. Barnum, was the real deal. According to a 1973 biography of P.T. Barnum, Barnum was the pioneering impresario of “humbug” who helped invent mass entertainment; his mantra was to exploit the public’s desire to be flimflammed. From the 1840s to the 1870s, he organized popular New York museums that showcased “industrious fleas, automatons, jugglers, ventriloquists, living statuary, tableaux, gypsies, albinos, fat boys, giants, dwarfs, rope-dancers….”

Barnum happily faked events in order to generate free publicity for his museum. He wrote that the art of “the humbug” was to put on “glittering appearances…novel expedients, by which to suddenly arrest public attention, and attract the public eye and ear.” Novelty and ingenuity were essential to his commercial success, his biography said, and if his "puffing was more persistent, [his] flags more patriotic” it wasn’t because of fewer scruples, but more ingenuity. The glitter and noise created outside his museum drew crowds. Once inside, they could be entertained for hours by his displays, but they had to pay to get in—no one got something for nothing.

(original image)

Confidence men continued to flourish in 20th century American literature, notably with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. But a new century provided fresh formats, and shill artists now appeared on stage and screen. In the 1927 Broadway sensation Show Boat, the male lead is the compulsive riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal; meanwhile Gone With the Wind's Rhett Butler displays in noncommittal attitude and in snappy costume his earlier life as a professional gambler turned blockaid runner and speculator.

On the lighter side of the con, flimflam was Professor Howard Hill’s animating purpose in Meredith Willson’s Tony-award winning 1957 musical The Music Man. Robert Preston’s unmatchable portrayal of Professor Hill, who comes into town on a tear and warns of “trouble."

With a capital "T"
That rhymes with "P"
And that stands for Pool,

He offers to “keep the young ones moral after school” by organizing a band. If parents buy his musical instruments, their children will henceforth be saved from such evil behavior as smoking cigarettes, using slang words like “swell” and playing pool, the game that was “a devil’s tool.”

Scam artistry was also the focal point for the delightful 1973 Paul Newman and Robert Redford caper, The Sting. Set in Depression America in 1936, the plot focuses on two professional grifters (Newman and Redford) who launch a “big con” that eventually includes a vicious crime boss, a bookie, an undercover FBI agent, a waitress and…well, the plot is thick with colorful and scary characters. But the ragtime music by Scott Joplin is uplifting, and so is the film’s finale.

Con artists in the 1950s and ‘60s sometimes migrated from small towns and riverboats to Madison Avenue, where the world of advertising became their high stakes playground. Like their grifting and shilling predecessors, promulgators of Madison Avenue’s great pretend continued a well-honed American tradition. In slicked up versions of “humbug,” advertising agencies focused on product packaging, bolstered by clever jingles like “Plop plop/Fizz fizz/Oh What a Relief It Is” and “Does She, or Doesn’t She?”

(original image)

Much like Warhol did by replicating Brillo boxes as art, Mad Men brilliantly reconstructs the world of Madison Avenue for today’s TV audiences. The show portrays the machinations of smarmy ad man Don Draper, whose dreams draw deeply from huckster roots and whose antics have made him a popular cultural anti-hero.

American Hustle is a happy addition to the nation’s flimflam repertory. Both heroic and ridiculous, the film celebrates the grit and determination burrowed in America’s DNA. It’s really the story of people trying to find their dream—and we cheer them on because it’s our story, too.

Letter from William I. Gosnell to Rev. Volley Stokes

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Letter from William Gosnell to Rev. Volley Stokes. The letter is typed in black ink and the paper has a letterhead [WILLIAM I. GOSNELL / ATTORNEY AT LAW / 220 ST. PAUL STREET / BALTIMORE, MD.]. The text to Rev. Volley Stokes begins [My dear Sir: / We are sending you a representative to your church in the person of Mrs. Mable Locke, to urge and insist upon the people coming out to vote Tuesday…]. The letter was signed by Gosnell. The paper is creased from being folded. The reverse is blank.

2012 National Design Awards Gala: Part 2

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
5:18 Design Patron: Red Burns 9:10 Design Mind: Janine Benyus 17:28 Corporate & Institutional Achievement: Design That Matters 23:38 Architecture Design: Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects 31:28 Communication Design: Rebeca Méndez 40:00 Landscape Architecture: Stoss Landscape Urbanism 46:30 Fashion Design: Thom Browne 52:38 Interaction Design: Evan Roth 54:51 Interior Design: Clive Wilkinson Architects 1:02:41 Product Design: Scott Wilson 1:11:29 Lifetime Achievement: Richard Saul Wurman The National Design Awards are bestowed at a gala benefit dinner and awards ceremony in New York City each fall. This year's festivities will be held at the spectacular Pier Sixty on the Hudson River on the evening of Wednesday, October 17. This year's vice-chairs are Beth Comstock, Aaron Dignan, Paul Herzan, Madeleine Rudin Johnson, Fern Mallis, Todd Oldham, and Judy Francis Zankel. Designed again by David Stark, the gala decor will give a playful nod to the fundamentals of design. As basic, geometric shapes are the building blocks of all design, Pier Sixty will be transformed into a vibrant world of bold shapes and bright colors, creating a strikingly dynamic and festive atmosphere along with adding a contemporary twist on the color wheel.

The Atlantics: Can't Wait Forever

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Recto: From the right to left edges, the five band members (see Verso below for details) are featured in an all over pattern of eight rows in various standing poses, imprinted in tones of red or black-and-white. The band's name, The Atlantics, is imprinted across in the second, fourth and sixth rows in sans serif type of the same height as the figures, which are displaced by the letters for the most part in those rows.

Verso: A sequence of five overlapping, black and white, partial head shot views, one of each band member, comprises the design. The subjects look directly at the viewer and are posed so that the facial components - eyes, noses, mouths, etc - are approximately on the same level. The musicians' names and functions are imprinted at different levels in red sans serif style capitals; from left to right, they are Paul Caruso/ Drums, Vocals; B. Wilkinson/ Bass Guitar, Vocals; Fred Pineau/ Lead Guitar; Tom Hauck/ Guitar, Vocals; and Bobby Marron/ Lead Vocals. Can't Wait Forever and Lonely Hearts, the album's two song titles, are imprinted respectively in the top and bottom quarters overlaying the second through fourth views. Additional production credits are interspersed, and Design/ M&Co appears in the lower right hand corner.

Oysters Don’t Have Ears But Still Use Sound to Choose Their Homes

Smithsonian Magazine

Image Credit: Paul Wilkinson

When they venture away from their oyster bed, young oysters float along in the ocean currents, only able to move up and down within the water column. Eventually, while still in the larval stage, they attach to a reef or sediment. But how do they know where to land?

Oysters don’t have feet, Lewis Carroll pointed out in “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” and they don’t have ears either. But as NC State grad student Ashlee Lillis found, in a paper published in the journal PLOS One, oyster larvae find their homes by responding to the unique sounds of an oyster bed or reef.

The oysters, she and her colleagues write, sense the vibrations of the sound in the water column and using those vibrations as guideposts towards their new homes. Lillis and co. used recordings of reefs to test their theory in the lab, and both in the lab and in the wild, the oysters responded to the reef sounds, settling more when exposed to recordings of the reef itself, as opposed to recordings of  areas further away.

“The ocean has different soundscapes, just like on land,” Lillis says in a press release. “Living in a reef is like living in a busy urban area: there are a lot of residents, a lot of activity and a lot of noise. By comparison, the seafloor is more like living in the quiet countryside.” Lillis hopes to figure out what soundscapes are unique to healthy reefs, and using that information to either monitor the health of oyster beds or help establish new oyster beds.

The lab at NC State also has a gallery of soundscapes where you can hear the popcorn-like crackle of the reefs for yourself.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Will Oysters Survive Ocean Acidification? Depends on the Oyster.
The Oyster’s Ouster From Our World
Mining an Oyster Midden

Reclining Woman with Guitar

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Meriwether Lewis' Mysterious Death

Smithsonian Magazine

Captain Meriwether Lewis—William Clark’s expedition partner on the Corps of Discovery’s historic trek to the Pacific, Thomas Jefferson’s confidante, governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory and all-around American hero—was only 35 when he died of gunshot wounds sustained along a perilous Tennessee trail called Natchez Trace. A broken column, symbol of a life cut short, marks his grave.

But exactly what transpired at a remote inn 200 years ago this Saturday? Most historians agree that he committed suicide; others are convinced he was murdered. Now Lewis’s descendants and some scholars are campaigning to exhume his body, which is buried on national parkland not far from Hohenwald, Tenn.

“This controversy has existed since his death,” says Tom McSwain, Lewis’s great-great-great-great nephew who helped start a Web site, “Solve the Mystery,” that lays out family members’ point of view. “When there’s so much uncertainty and doubt, we must have more evidence. History is about finding the truth,” he adds. The National Park Service is currently reviewing the exhumation request.

The intrigue surrounding the famous explorer’s untimely death has spawned a cottage industry of books and articles, with experts from a variety of fields, including forensics and mental health, weighing in. Scholars have reconstructed lunar cycles to prove that the innkeeper’s wife couldn’t have seen what she said she saw that moonless night. Black powder pistols have been test-fired, forgeries claimed and mitochondrial DNA extracted from living relatives. Yet even now, precious little is known about the events of October 10, 1809, after Lewis – armed with several pistols, a rifle and a tomahawk – stopped at a log cabin lodging house known as Grinder’s Stand.

He and Clark had finished their expedition three years earlier; Lewis, who was by then a governor of the large swath of land that constituted the Upper Louisiana Territory, was on his way to Washington, D.C. to settle financial matters. By some accounts, Lewis arrived at the inn with servants; by others, he arrived alone. That night, Mrs. Grinder, the innkeeper’s wife, heard several shots. She later said she saw a wounded Lewis crawling around, begging for water, but was too afraid to help him. He died, apparently of bullet wounds to the head and abdomen, shortly before sunrise the next day. One of his traveling companions, who arrived later, buried him nearby.

His friends assumed it was suicide. Before he left St. Louis, Lewis had given several associates the power to distribute his possessions in the event of his death; while traveling, he composed a will. Lewis had reportedly attempted to take his own life several times a few weeks earlier and was known to suffer from what Jefferson called “sensible depressions of mind.” Clark had also observed his companion’s melancholy states. “I fear the weight of his mind has overcome him,” he wrote after receiving word of Lewis’s fate.

At the time of his death Lewis’s depressive tendencies were compounded by other problems: he was having financial troubles and likely suffered from alcoholism and other illnesses, possibly syphilis or malaria, the latter of which was known to cause bouts of dementia.

Surprisingly, he may also have felt like something of a failure. Though the Corps of Discovery had traversed thousands of miles of wilderness with few casualties, Lewis and Clark did not find the Northwest Passage to the Pacific, the mission’s primary goal; the system of trading posts that they’d established began to fall apart before the explorers returned home. And now Lewis, the consummate adventurer, suddenly found himself stuck in a desk job.

Image by Newscom. Captain Meriwether Lewis was only 35 when he died of gunshot wounds to the head and abdomen on October 10, 1809. (original image)

Image by Connie Ricca / Corbis. Controversy over Lewis' death has descendants and scholars campaigning to exhume his body at his grave site in Tennessee. (original image)

“At the end of his life he was a horrible drunk, terribly depressed, who could never even finish his [expedition] journals,” says Paul Douglas Newman, a professor of history who teaches “Lewis and Clark and The Early American Republic” at the University of Pittsburgh. An American icon, Lewis was also a human being, and the expedition “was the pinnacle of Lewis’s life,” Newman says. “He came back and he just could not readjust. On the mission it was ‘how do we stay alive and collect information?’ Then suddenly you’re heroes. There’s a certain amount of stress to reentering the world. It was like coming back from the moon.”

Interestingly, John Guice, one of the most prominent critics of the suicide theory, uses a very different astronaut comparison. Lewis was indeed “like a man coming back from the moon,” Guice notes. But rather than feeling alienated, he would have been busy enjoying a level of Buzz Aldrin-like celebrity. “He had so much to live for,” says Guice, professor emeritus of history at The University of Southern Mississippi and the editor of By His Own Hand? The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis. “This was the apex of a hero’s career. He was the governor of a huge territory. There were songs and poems written about him. This wasn’t just anybody who kicked the bucket.” Besides, how could an expert marksman botch his own suicide and be forced to shoot himself twice?

Guice believes that bandits roaming the notoriously dangerous Natchez Trace killed Lewis. Other murder theories range from the scandalous (the innkeeper discovered Lewis in flagrante with Mrs. Grinder) to the conspiratorial (a corrupt Army general named James Wilkinson hatched an assassination plot.)

Though Lewis’s mother is said to have believed he was murdered, that idea didn’t have much traction until the 1840s, when a commission of Tennesseans set out to honor Lewis by erecting a marker over his grave. While examining the remains, committee members wrote that “it was more probable that he died at the hands of an assassin.” Unfortunately, they failed to say why.

But the science of autopsies has come a long way since then, says James Starrs, a George Washington University Law School professor and forensics expert who is pressing for an exhumation. For one thing, with mitochondrial DNA samples he’s already taken from several of Lewis’ female descendants, scientists can confirm that the body really is Lewis’s (corpses were not uncommon on the Natchez Trace). If the skeleton is his, and intact, they can analyze gunpowder residue to see if he was shot at close range and examine fracture patterns in the skull. They could also potentially learn about his nutritional health, what drugs he was using and if he was suffering from syphilis. Historians would hold such details dear, Starrs says: “Nobody even knows how tall Meriwether Lewis was. We could do the DNA to find out the color of his hair.”

Some scholars aren’t so sure that an exhumation will clarify matters.

“Maybe there is an answer beneath the monument to help us understand,” says James Holmberg, curator of Special Collections at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Ky., who has published work on Lewis’s life and death. “But I don’t know if it would change anybody’s mind one way or the other.”

The details of the case are so sketchy that “it’s like trying to grab a shadow,” Holmberg says. “You try to reach out but you can never get a hold of it.” Even minor features of the story fluctuate. In some versions, Seaman, Lewis’s loyal Newfoundland who guarded his master against bears on the long journey West, remained by his grave, refusing to eat or drink. In other accounts, the dog was never there at all.

However Lewis died, his death had a considerable effect on the young country. A year and a half after the shooting, ornithologist Alexander Wilson, a friend of Lewis’s, interviewed Mrs. Grinder, becoming one of the first among many people who have investigated the case. He gave the Grinders money to maintain Lewis’s grave and visited the site himself. There, reflecting on the adventure-loving young man who had mapped “the gloomy and savage wilderness which I was just entering alone,” Wilson broke down and wept.

Album, "Golden Floral Album"

Smithsonian Gardens
"Golden Floral Album" is an autograph book with botanical illustrations. The album is inscribed by Frank Walker on July 14, 1883, Sallie B. Wilkinson on April 27, 1883, J. Cardwell? (a friend) on July 21, 1883 from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Hand-written excerpts and verses include a memoriam poem 'Mrs. Nassau Senior' featured in Spectator magazine, a verse from "The Album Writer's Friend" by J.S. Ogilvie, a verse by J.K. Pauling, "In Kentucky" by James H. Mulligan, and "The Bonnie Blue Flag" by Harry Macarthy." It also includes illustrations of plants and flowers.