A single mutation alters production and discrimination of Drosophila sex pheromones

Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Feb 7;272(1560):303-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2971.


The evolution of communication is a fundamental biological problem. The genetic control of the signal and its reception must be tightly coadapted, especially in inter-individual sexual communication. However, there is very little experimental evidence for tight genetic linkage connecting the emission of a signal and its reception. We found that a single genomic transposon inserted in the desatl gene of Drosophila melanogaster simultaneously affected the emission and the perception of sex-specific signals. This mutation greatly decreased the production of unsaturated hydrocarbons on the cuticle of mature flies of both sexes. These substances represent the sex pheromones necessary for mate discrimination: control males could not discriminate the sex of mutant desatl flies. Moreover, mutant males were unable to discriminate the sex pheromones of con-trol flies. Expression of desatl was found in the peripheral tissues that produce and detect sex pheromones. Excision of the transposon rescued both the production and discrimination phenotypes, but the two effects did not always coincide. This indicates that the emission and perception of pheromones are coded by differ-ent products of the same gene, reflecting the pleiotropic activity of desatl .

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Blotting, Southern
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / genetics*
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Components
  • Gene Expression*
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Hydrocarbons / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Sex Attractants / genetics*
  • Sex Attractants / metabolism


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Sex Attractants
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases