Allelic variation in a fatty-acyl reductase gene causes divergence in moth sex pheromones

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Abstract

Pheromone-based behaviours are crucial in animals from insects to mammals, and reproductive isolation is often based on pheromone differences. However, the genetic mechanisms by which pheromone signals change during the evolution of new species are largely unknown. In the sexual communication system of moths (Insecta: Lepidoptera), females emit a species-specific pheromone blend that attracts males over long distances. The European corn borer, [i)Ostrinia nubilalis[/i], consists of two sex pheromone races, Z and E, that use different ratios of the cis and trans isomers of acetate pheromone components. This subtle difference leads to strong reproductive isolation in the field between the two races, which could represent a first step in speciation. Female sex pheromone production and male behavioural response are under the control of different major genes, but the identity of these genes is unknown. Here we show that allelic variation in a fatty-acyl reductase gene essential for pheromone biosynthesis accounts for the phenotypic variation in female pheromone production, leading to race-specific signals. Both the cis and trans isomers of the pheromone precursors are produced by both races, but the precursors are differentially reduced to yield opposite ratios in the final pheromone blend as a result of the substrate specificity of the enzymes encoded by the Z and E alleles. This is the first functional characterization of a gene contributing to intraspecific behavioural reproductive isolation in moths, highlighting the importance of evolutionary diversification in a lepidopteran-specific family of reductases. Accumulation of substitutions in the coding region of a single biosynthetic enzyme can produce pheromone differences resulting in reproductive isolation, with speciation as a potential end result.

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Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences
  • Zoology
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)486-489
JournalNature
Volume466
Issue number7305
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes

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