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Mol Biol Evol. 2008 Jun;25(6):1081-92. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msn055. Epub 2008 Feb 23.

Evolution of gene expression in the Drosophila olfactory system.

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Section of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, USA.


Host plant shifts by phytophagous insects play a key role in insect evolution and plant ecology. Such shifts often involve major behavioral changes as the insects must acquire an attraction and/or lose the repulsion to the new host plant's odor and taste. The evolution of chemotactic behavior may be due, in part, to gene expression changes in the peripheral sensory system. To test this hypothesis, we compared gene expression in the olfactory organs of Drosophila sechellia, a narrow ecological specialist that feeds on the fruit of Morinda citrifolia, with its close relatives Drosophila simulans and Drosophila melanogaster, which feed on a wide variety of decaying plant matter. Using whole-genome microarrays and quantitative polymerase chain reaction, we surveyed the entire repertoire of Drosophila odorant receptors (ORs) and odorant-binding proteins (OBPs) expressed in the antennae. We found that the evolution of OR and OBP expression was accelerated in D. sechellia compared both with the genome average in that species and with the rate of OR and OBP evolution in the other species. However, some of the gene expression changes that correlate with D. sechellia's increased sensitivity to Morinda odorants may predate its divergence from D. simulans. Interspecific divergence of olfactory gene expression cannot be fully explained by changes in the relative abundance of different sensilla as some ORs and OBPs have evolved independently of other genes expressed in the same sensilla. A number of OR and OBP genes are upregulated in D. sechellia compared with its generalist relatives. These genes include Or22a, which likely responds to a key odorant of M. citrifolia, and several genes that are yet to be characterized in detail. Increased expression of these genes in D. sechellia may have contributed to the evolution of its unique chemotactic behavior.

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