Undergraduate Research & Scholarships

Maria Pizzano Rose Hills

The Developmental Basis for Silver Spot Formation on the Wings of the Gulf Fritillar

Butterflies are known for the remarkable patterns and colors of their wings. There are precisely arranged rows of microscopic single-cell scales across the wing surface. The color of scales can result from either the biosynthesis of pigments within the scale, or from structural coloration (sometimes both). Structural colors, such as iridescence, are of particular interest because they originate from the interaction of light with complex nanostructures that are found within or at the surface of each scale. A remarkable example of iridescence is seen on the wings of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanilla, where spots appear silver and almost reflective as a mirror. I am interested in how scale stacking contributes to overall reflectivity, and how actin contributes developmentally to the particular structure, and therefore iridescence, of a silver scale. I will be looking at Gulf Fritillary butterfly wings at the larval, pupal, and adult stages. My work will help to elucidate developmental mechanisms that create structural color.

Message To Sponsor

I have always been curious and very interested in color, patterns, and lines. Butterflies have always amazed me, and as a Molecular Cell Biology major, my curiosity was piqued when I began to work with them in the Patel Lab two years ago. I started mounting specimens, becoming more and more fascinated with the intricate patterns and array of color. This project allows me to get lost in what creates the colors of these fascinating creatures. SURF/Rose Hills gives me the opportunity to focus full-time on research over the summer. My plans for the future include graduate school and further research in the field, so this experience is invaluable. The unique opportunity gives me the chance to work on my own project in a setting comparable to that of my future plans. This experience will give me the skills and training needed for the next stage of my academic career.
Profile image of Maria Pizzano
Major: Molecular Cell Biology and Psychology
Mentor: Nipam Patel, Molecular and Cell Biology
Sponsor: Rose Hills Foundation
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