Genomic resources of two aquatic Lepidoptera, Elophila obliteralis and Hyposmocoma kahamanoa, reveal similarities with Trichoptera in amino acid composition of major silk genes

G3 (Bethesda). 2024 May 9:jkae093. doi: 10.1093/g3journal/jkae093. Online ahead of print.


While most species of butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) have entirely terrestrial life histories, ∼0.5% of the described species are known to have an aquatic larval stage. Larvae of aquatic Lepidoptera are similar to caddisflies (Trichoptera) in that they use silk to anchor themselves to underwater substrates or to build protective cases. However, the physical properties and genetic elements of silks in aquatic Lepidoptera remain unstudied, as most research on lepidopteran silk has focused on the commercially important silkworm, Bombyx mori. Here, we provide high-quality PacBio HiFi genome assemblies of two distantly-related aquatic Lepidoptera species (Elophila obliteralis (Pyraloidea: Crambidae) and Hyposmocoma kahamanoa (Gelechioidea: Cosmopterigidae)). As a step toward understanding the evolution of underwater silk in aquatic Lepidoptera, we used our two genome assemblies and compared them to published genetic data of aquatic and terrestrial Lepidoptera. Sequences of the primary silk protein, h-fibroin in aquatic moths have conserved termini and share a basic motif structure with terrestrial Lepidoptera. However, these sequences were similar to aquatic Trichoptera in that the percentage of positively and negatively charged amino acids was much higher than in terrestrial Lepidoptera, indicating a possible adaptation of silks to aquatic environments.

Keywords: Elophila obliteralis; Hypocosmocoma kahamanoa; aquatic moth; h-fibroin; silk gene; underwater silk.