When he wasn't writing Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov was studying butterflies. In 1945, he came up with a theory about the evolution of a group of butterflies he studied called the Polyommatus blues, saying they likely came to the New World from Asia over millions of years and in a "series of waves," reports Carl Zimmer at The New York Times. Few scientists took Nabokov seriously at the time, but now, using sequencing technology, researchers have found that he was "absolutely right," Zimmer says. In a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, the researchers reconstructed the blues' evolutionary tree and estimated when the branches split. After collecting genes from the various types of butterflies in the group, the researchers "compared the number of mutations each species had acquired to determine how long ago they had diverged from one another," Zimmer says. What they found was that the New World species shared a common ancestor about 10 million years ago, and concluded that about five waves of butterflies came over from Asia, just as Nabokov had theorized.
Jan 28, 2011