Submitted to: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: May 15, 2009
Publication Date: July 15, 2009
Citation: Rooney, A.P. 2009. Evolution of Moth Sex Pheromone Desaturases. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1170:506-510.
Interpretive Summary: Moth caterpillars pose a food safety concern because mycotoxin-producing fungi grow on agricultural crops when damaged by these pests. The use of synthetic sex pheromones to control moth pests is an appealing alternative to the use of chemical pesticides. However, in order to fully exploit sex pheromones as moth biocontrol agents, we need to understand which genes are responsible for their production, whether or not all species possess the same genes, and how new or different pheromones are produced by those genes. In this study, it is shown that moth sex pheromone genes are highly diverse. It is also shown that moth species produce distinct pheromones by utilizing different genes, and that new genes often lay hidden in the genomes of moths that have yet to be discovered.
Moth sex pheromone communication has evolved to make use of complex blends of relatively simple long-chain fatty acid precursors. Species specificity is derived from the unique stereochemistry of double bonds introduced into exact locations along the hydrocarbon backbone of fatty acids, which are reduced and then undergo a variety of chain-shortening and functionalization reactions to form the pheromone blend. Key enzymes that have evolved to function in this system are the acyl-CoA desaturases, which catalyze the introduction of the double bonds. An overview of the evolution of these enzymes is given here, with an introduction to the newly arisen field of “semiochemical genetics”.