The chemoreceptor superfamily in the honey bee, Apis mellifera: Expansion of the odorant, but not gustatory, receptor family

  • Robertson H
  • Wanner K
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Abstract

The honey bee genome sequence reveals a remarkable expansion of the insect odorant receptor (Or) family relative to the repertoires of the flies Drosophila melanogaster and Anopheles gambiae, which have 62 and 79 Ors respectively. A total of 170 Or genes were annotated in the bee, of which seven are pseudogenes. These constitute five bee-specific subfamilies in an insect Or family tree, one of which has expanded to a total of 157 genes encoding proteins with 15%-99% amino acid identity. Most of the Or genes are in tandem arrays, including one with 60 genes. This bee-specific expansion of the Or repertoire presumably underlies their remarkable olfactory abilities, including perception of several pheromone blends, kin recognition signals, and diverse floral odors. The number of Apis mellifera Ors is approximately equal to the number of glomeruli in the bee antennal lobe (160-170), consistent with a general one-receptor/one-neuron/one-glomerulus relationship. The bee genome encodes just 10 gustatory receptors (Grs) compared with the D. melanogaster and A. gambiae repertoires of 68 and 76 Grs, respectively. A lack of Gr gene family expansion primarily accounts for this difference. A nurturing hive environment and a mutualistic relationship with plants may explain the lack of Gr family expansion. The Or family is the most dramatic example of gene family expansion in the bee genome, and characterizing their caste- and sex-specific gene expression may provide clues to their specific roles in detection of pheromone, kin, and floral odors.

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