Origins: Building Life is an exclusive exhibit that provides a unique opportunity to see how all animal life is connected.

You’ve seen the diversity, now see the building blocks that started it all. Origins is an entirely new exhibit that dives into the animals we stem from. Step back over 500 million years to the extraordinary Cambrian explosion, dubbed the “Age of Invertebrates,” where a diverse array of animals burst onto the evolutionary scene. Our groundbreaking exhibit explores this pivotal moment, showcasing the emergence of prehistoric creatures that shaped life as we know it today. The animals that emerged during the Cambrian period were many and varied. Some of these species would become the ancestors to the invertebrates (and vertebrates) right here at Butterfly Pavilion, while others were less successful.

Origins will allow Butterfly Pavilion guests to immerse themselves into a world of wonder with captivating activities:

  • Discover the fascinating world of genetic building blocks and their role in shaping animal diversity.
  • Witness the awe-inspiring Cambrian creatures come to life through holograms.
  • Encounter the modern-day descendants of these ancient animals.
  • Immerse yourself in the vibrant Cambrian Seas through virtual reality.
  • Explore the incredible variety of invertebrate life that emerged during this pivotal period.

Here’s a sneak peak into some of the things you’ll learn:

How do Genes Work?

A gene is a section of strand of DNA that makes up a sequence of code. Depending on what the code says, different proteins can be made, contributing to different functions of life. There are genes that we consider some of the basic building blocks of life, shared among many different animals. For example, the Pax6 gene plays a crucial role in orchestrating the formation of the eyes during embryonic development across a wide range of species, from insects to mammals.

Mutations in genes can lead to “specialty pieces” – genes that contribute to the differences among animals, creating differences on top of the basic building blocks we all share.

Unlocking Genetic Diversity

The first signs of life found in fossils date back to about 3.7 billion years ago. However, many of the diverse groups of animals we know about today did not begin to show up until about 550 million years ago. We attribute this change in life to the idea of those basic building blocks we find shared among organisms. Once a certain number of these basic genes were established, the momentum of gene creation picks up, and there is suddenly an explosion of genes and diversity.

If we imagine genes as actual building blocks, we get a better picture of how this works. When you only have five blocks, there are not many different ways you can combine them. But increase your basic set to 20 or 30, and now you can create so many new combinations that were never possible before. This is what happens as life enters the Cambrian period.

The Origins exhibit was developed in collaboration with Daniel Meulemans Medeiros, Ph.D., Associate Professor at University of Colorado Boulder. This exhibit is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. 2054340. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibit are those of Butterfly Pavilion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.