• B.S., 2002, Animal Biology, University Paris 6 Pierre and Marie Curie, France.
  • M.S., 2003, Invertebrate Physiology, University Paris 6 Pierre and Marie Curie, France.
  • Ph.D., 2006, Insect Physiology, University Paris 6 Pierre and Marie Curie, France.
  • Postdoctoral research, Molecular Neuroethology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, USA.

Joined the Department in 2013


Center for Biological Clocks Research

Faculty of Genetics

Texas A&M Institute for Neuroscience

Merlin Lab Website

Circadian clocks in the migration of the monarch butterfly: from genes to behavior
Our research broadly lies in understanding how organisms respond and adapt to changing environments, with an emphasis on circadian biology. Organisms from bacteria to humans use circadian clocks to control a plethora of biochemical, physiological and behavioral rhythms. These clocks are synchronized to daily and seasonal environmental changes to allow organisms to tune specific activities at the appropriate times of day or year.

monarch butterfly

Photo credit: Monarch Watch

In our laboratory, we use the eastern North American migratory monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) as a model system to study animal clock mechanisms and the role of circadian clocks and clock genes in a fascinating biological output, the animal long-distance migration. Every fall, like clockwork, millions of monarch butterflies start migrating thousands of miles from North America to reach their overwintering sites in central Mexico. During their journey south, migrating monarchs use a time-compensated sun compass orientation mechanism to maintain a constant flight bearing. Circadian clocks located in the antennae provide the critical internal timing device for compensation of the sun movement across the sky over the course of the day. The recent sequencing of the monarch genome and the establishment of genetic tools to knockout clock genes (and others) in vivo using nuclease-mediated gene targeting approaches provides us with a unique opportunity to uncover the molecular and cellular underpinnings of the butterfly clockwork, its migratory behavior and their interplay.

We are using integrative approaches that include molecular, genetic, genome-wide profiling approaches, and behavior to more specifically address: 1) how the circadian clock and clock genes govern the photoperiodic seasonal migratory switch and 2) the molecular and genetic bases underlying the migratory behavior. We also continue to develop innovative gene-targeting approaches (using TALENs) to knock-in reporter tags into clock genes loci to gain insights into the clock circuitry involved in both seasonal responses and navigation.

  1. Markert, MJ, Zhang, Y, Enuameh, MS, Reppert, SM, Wolfe, SA, Merlin, C et al.. Genomic Access to Monarch Migration Using TALEN and CRISPR/Cas9-Mediated Targeted Mutagenesis. G3 (Bethesda). 2016;6 (4):905-15. doi: 10.1534/g3.116.027029. PubMed PMID:26837953 PubMed Central PMC4825660.
  2. Reppert, SM, Guerra, PA, Merlin, C. Neurobiology of Monarch Butterfly Migration. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 2016;61 :25-42. doi: 10.1146/annurev-ento-010814-020855. PubMed PMID:26473314 .
  3. Merlin, C, Beaver, LE, Taylor, OR, Wolfe, SA, Reppert, SM. Efficient targeted mutagenesis in the monarch butterfly using zinc-finger nucleases. Genome Res. 2013;23 (1):159-68. doi: 10.1101/gr.145599.112. PubMed PMID:23009861 PubMed Central PMC3530676.
  4. Guerra, PA, Merlin, C, Gegear, RJ, Reppert, SM. Discordant timing between antennae disrupts sun compass orientation in migratory monarch butterflies. Nat Commun. 2012;3 :958. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1965. PubMed PMID:22805565 PubMed Central PMC3962218.
  5. Zhan, S, Merlin, C, Boore, JL, Reppert, SM. The monarch butterfly genome yields insights into long-distance migration. Cell. 2011;147 (5):1171-85. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.09.052. PubMed PMID:22118469 PubMed Central PMC3225893.
  6. Legeai, F, Malpel, S, Montagné, N, Monsempes, C, Cousserans, F, Merlin, C et al.. An Expressed Sequence Tag collection from the male antennae of the Noctuid moth Spodoptera littoralis: a resource for olfactory and pheromone detection research. BMC Genomics. 2011;12 :86. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-12-86. PubMed PMID:21276261 PubMed Central PMC3045336.
  7. Merlin, C, Gegear, RJ, Reppert, SM. Antennal circadian clocks coordinate sun compass orientation in migratory monarch butterflies. Science. 2009;325 (5948):1700-4. doi: 10.1126/science.1176221. PubMed PMID:19779201 PubMed Central PMC2754321.
  8. Merlin, C, Lucas, P, Rochat, D, François, MC, Maïbèche-Coisne, M, Jacquin-Joly, E et al.. An antennal circadian clock and circadian rhythms in peripheral pheromone reception in the moth Spodoptera littoralis. J. Biol. Rhythms. 2007;22 (6):502-14. doi: 10.1177/0748730407307737. PubMed PMID:18057325 .
  9. de Santis, F, François, MC, Merlin, C, Pelletier, J, Maïbèche-Coisné, M, Conti, E et al.. Molecular cloning and in Situ expression patterns of two new pheromone-binding proteins from the corn stemborer Sesamia nonagrioides. J. Chem. Ecol. 2006;32 (8):1703-17. doi: 10.1007/s10886-006-9103-2. PubMed PMID:16900426 .
  10. Jacquin-Joly, E, Merlin, C. Insect olfactory receptors: contributions of molecular biology to chemical ecology. J. Chem. Ecol. 2004;30 (12):2359-97. . PubMed PMID:15724962 .
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Christine Merlin

Christine Merlin
Assistant Professor

3258 TAMU
College Station, TX 77843-3258

Biological Sciences Building East
Room 118D

Biological Sciences Building East
Room 102

Email: cmerlin@bio.tamu.edu

Curriculum Vitae