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Identification of genes controlling mouthpart development key to insect diversity

Research reveals functions of mouthpart-controlling genes in development of enlarged mandibles in the stag beetle

Date:
March 7, 2017
Source:
Nagoya University
Summary:
New research revealed roles for genes responsible for insect limb formation in the development of stag beetle mouthparts. Different genes were shown to control mandible size and generation of inner teeth, and appeared to cooperate with signaling of the insect juvenile hormone, leading to species-specific differences in morphology. These findings advance understanding of insect diversification and are relevant to control of insects as an agricultural pest and disease vector.
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(A) Comparison of the large adult male whole body phenotypes of GFP RNAi control animal (left) and dachshund RNAi animal (right). Control animal did not show any defect compare to wildtype animals, while dachshund RNAi showed defect phenotype in appendages including legs, antennae and mandibles. (B) Magnified image of mandibles of GFP RNAi control animal (left) and dachshund RNAi animal (right). RNAi of dachshund gene affected both of mandible size and shape.
Credit: Hiroki Gotoh

Insects are a biological success story with their high abundance, dominating biodiversity, and almost worldwide distribution. Their evolutionary prowess in part reflects their ability to diversify and fill a variety of ecological niches. One means of doing this is developing a range of mouthparts that enables different foodstuffs to be consumed. Mouthparts can be highly modified, as in the straw-like maxillae of butterflies, or exceptionally enlarged, as in the mandibles of stag beetles that are used for fighting rather than feeding. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying mandible enlargement have been poorly understood. Collaborative Japan-US research coordinated by Nagoya University has now shed light on the genetic control of stag beetle mandible development. The study was published in Developmental Biology.

The development of appendages, such as limbs and mouthparts, at different distances from the body wall (proximal through medial to distal) is controlled by a series of genes highly conserved among all insects. The researchers used a molecular silencing technique to sequentially knockdown the expression of seven of these genes to investigate their function in the development and enlargement of stag beetle mandibles.

The dachshund (dac) gene, which controls regulation of the middle region of appendages in Drosophila and many other insects, had the greatest effect on mandible development of all seven genes analyzed.

"Knockdown of dac greatly reduced mandible size in male but not female stag beetles, and affected mandible morphology in both sexes," corresponding author Hiroki Gotoh says. "Knocked-down animals did not develop the serrated teeth normally seen in all males, and also lacked the inner teeth characteristic of large males."

Genes aristaless (al) and homothorax (hth) were also shown to have important roles in the development of inner teeth. However, knockdown of the Distal-less (Dll) gene, which is functional in distal regions, had no effect on mandible development. This supports previous knowledge that insects lost their most distal mandible regions early in evolution.

Male-specific mandible enlargement in stag beetles is known to be regulated by juvenile hormone, such that larger males have disproportionately larger mandibles.

"We observed a size-specific link with the functions of dac, al, and hth in the knockdown studies," Gotoh adds. "This suggests that these genes control their function using a size-dependent factor -- most likely juvenile hormone."

Genetic silencing also revealed that the seven genes largely controlled stag beetle leg development in a manner highly conserved with that of other insects, but that their roles in antennal formation were more diverse. These conserved developmental functions of some genes but varied roles of others are likely to have contributed to the evolution of mouthparts in different insect species.


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Materials provided by Nagoya University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Hiroki Gotoh, Robert A. Zinna, Yuki Ishikawa, Hitoshi Miyakawa, Asano Ishikawa, Yasuhiro Sugime, Douglas J. Emlen, Laura C. Lavine, Toru Miura. The function of appendage patterning genes in mandible development of the sexually dimorphic stag beetle. Developmental Biology, 2017; 422 (1): 24 DOI: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2016.12.011

Cite This Page:

Nagoya University. "Identification of genes controlling mouthpart development key to insect diversity: Research reveals functions of mouthpart-controlling genes in development of enlarged mandibles in the stag beetle." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 March 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170307100329.htm>.
Nagoya University. (2017, March 7). Identification of genes controlling mouthpart development key to insect diversity: Research reveals functions of mouthpart-controlling genes in development of enlarged mandibles in the stag beetle. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 29, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170307100329.htm
Nagoya University. "Identification of genes controlling mouthpart development key to insect diversity: Research reveals functions of mouthpart-controlling genes in development of enlarged mandibles in the stag beetle." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170307100329.htm (accessed May 29, 2017).

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