Diversification of the ant odorant receptor gene family and positive selection on candidate cuticular hydrocarbon receptors

Patamarerk Engsontia, Unitsa Sangket, Hugh M. Robertson, Chutamas Satasook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Chemical communication plays important roles in the social behavior of ants making them one of the most successful groups of animals on earth. However, the molecular evolutionary process responsible for their chemosensory adaptation is still elusive. Recent advances in genomic studies have led to the identification of large odorant receptor (Or) gene repertoires from ant genomes providing fruitful materials for molecular evolution analysis. The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that diversification of this gene family is involved in olfactory adaptation of each species. Results: We annotated the Or genes from the genome sequences of two leaf-cutter ants, Acromyrmex echinatior and Atta cephalotes (385 and 376 putative functional genes, respectively). These were used, together with Or genes from Camponotus floridanus, Harpegnathos saltator, Pogonomyrmex barbatus, Linepithema humile, Cerapachys biroi, Solenopsis invicta and Apis mellifera, in molecular evolution analysis. Like the Or family in other insects, ant Or genes evolve by the birth-and-death model of gene family evolution. Large gene family expansions involving tandem gene duplications, and gene gains outnumbering losses, are observed. Codon analysis of genes in lineage-specific expansion clades revealed signatures of positive selection on the candidate cuticular hydrocarbon receptor genes (9-exon subfamily) of Cerapachys biroi, Camponotus floridanus, Acromyrmex echinatior and Atta cephalotes. Positively selected amino acid positions are primarily in transmembrane domains 3 and 6, which are hypothesized to contribute to the odor-binding pocket, presumably mediating changing ligand specificity. Conclusions: This study provides support for the hypothesis that some ant lineage-specific Or genes have evolved under positive selection. Newly duplicated genes particularly in the candidate cuticular hydrocarbon receptor clade that have evolved under positive selection may contribute to the highly sophisticated lineage-specific chemical communication in each ant species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number380
JournalBMC Research Notes
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 27 2015


  • Cuticular hydrocarbon
  • Insect odorant receptor
  • Leaf-cutter ant
  • Molecular evolution
  • Positive selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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