Evolution of the olfactory code in the Drosophila melanogaster subgroup

Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Nov 22;270(1531):2333-40. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2003.2512.


The Drosophila melanogaster subgroup has been the focus of numerous studies about evolution. We address the question of how the olfactory code has evolved among the nine sister species. By using in vivo electrophysiological measurements, so called single-cell recordings, we have established the ligand affinity of a defined subset of olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) across all nine species. We show that the olfactory code as relayed by the investigated subset of ORNs is conserved to a striking degree. Distinct shifts in the code have occurred only within the simulans clade. However, these shifts are restricted to an altered tuning profile of the same single ORN type in all three of the simulans siblings and a more drastic change unique to D. sechellia, involving a complete loss of one sensillum type in favour of another. The alterations observed in D. sechellia may represent a novel host-specific adaptation to its sole host, morinda fruit (Morinda citrifolia). The overall high degree of similarity of the code within the subgroup is intriguing when considering the great variety in distributions as well as in habitat and host choice of the siblings, factors that could greatly affect the olfactory system.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Drosophila / physiology*
  • Drosophila / ultrastructure*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / physiology*
  • Species Specificity