A novel terpene synthase controls differences in anti-aphrodisiac pheromone production between closely related Heliconius butterflies

Change log
Black, Daniella 
Byers, Kelsey J. R. P.  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0923-8264
Szczerbowski, Daiane  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3733-2960

Plants and insects often use the same compounds for chemical communication, but not much is known about the genetics of convergent evolution of chemical signals. The terpene (E)-β-ocimene is a common component of floral scent and is also used by the butterfly Heliconius melpomene as an anti-aphrodisiac pheromone. While the biosynthesis of terpenes has been described in plants and microorganisms, few terpene synthases (TPSs) have been identified in insects. Here, we study the recent divergence of 2 species, H. melpomene and Heliconius cydno, which differ in the presence of (E)-β-ocimene; combining linkage mapping, gene expression, and functional analyses, we identify 2 novel TPSs. Furthermore, we demonstrate that one, HmelOS, is able to synthesise (E)-β-ocimene in vitro. We find no evidence for TPS activity in HcydOS (HmelOS ortholog of H. cydno), suggesting that the loss of (E)-β-ocimene in this species is the result of coding, not regulatory, differences. The TPS enzymes we discovered are unrelated to previously described plant and insect TPSs, demonstrating that chemical convergence has independent evolutionary origins.


Funder: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft; Grant(s): Emmy Noether Fellowship GZ:ME4845/1-1

Funder: Jane ja Aatos Erkon Säätiö; funder-id: http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/501100004012

Funder: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; funder-id: http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/100009201

Short Reports, Physical sciences, Biology and life sciences, Medicine and health sciences, Ecology and environmental sciences, Computer and information sciences, Research and analysis methods
Journal Title
PLOS Biology
Conference Name
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Public Library of Science
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/L002507/1)
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Short Term Fellowship)
European Research Council (339873 SpeciationGenetics)
Natural Environment Research Council (PFZE/063)
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Fellowship)
Herchel Smith Fund (Herchel Smith Postdoctoral Research Fellowship)
National Science Foundation (DEB 1257689)
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Schu984/12-1)