Flightin is a thick filament protein that in Drosophila melanogaster is uniquely expressed in the asynchronous, indirect flight muscles (IFM). Flightin is required for the structure and function of the IFM and is indispensable for flight in Drosophila. Given the importance of flight acquisition in the evolutionary history of insects, here we study the phylogeny and distribution of flightin. Flightin was identified in 69 species of hexapods in classes Collembola (springtails), Protura, Diplura, and insect orders Thysanura (silverfish), Dictyoptera (roaches), Orthoptera (grasshoppers), Pthiraptera (lice), Hemiptera (true bugs), Coleoptera (beetles), Neuroptera (green lacewing), Hymenoptera (bees, ants, and wasps), Lepidoptera (moths), and Diptera (flies and mosquitoes). Flightin was also found in 14 species of crustaceans in orders Anostraca (water flea), Cladocera (brine shrimp), Isopoda (pill bugs), Amphipoda (scuds, sideswimmers), and Decapoda (lobsters, crabs, and shrimps). Flightin was not identified in representatives of chelicerates, myriapods, or any species outside Pancrustacea (Tetraconata, sensu Dohle). Alignment of amino acid sequences revealed a conserved region of 52 amino acids, referred herein as WYR, that is bound by strictly conserved tryptophan (W) and arginine (R) and an intervening sequence with a high content of tyrosines (Y). This motif has no homologs in GenBank or PROSITE and is unique to flightin and paraflightin, a putative flightin paralog identified in decapods. A third motif of unclear affinities to pancrustacean WYR was observed in chelicerates. Phylogenetic analysis of amino acid sequences of the conserved motif suggests that paraflightin originated before the divergence of amphipods, isopods, and decapods. We conclude that flightin originated de novo in the ancestor of Pancrustacea 500 MYA, well before the divergence of insects (textasciitilde400 MYA) and the origin of flight (textasciitilde325 MYA), and that its IFM-specific function in Drosophila is a more recent adaptation. Furthermore, we propose that WYR represents a novel myosin coiled-coil binding motif.
Soto-Adames, F. N., Alvarez-Ortiz, P., & Vigoreaux, J. O. (2014). An evolutionary analysis of flightin reveals a conserved motif unique and widespread in Pancrustacea. Journal of Molecular Evolution, 78(1), 24--37. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00239-013-9597-5