The genomic and cellular basis of biosynthetic innovation in rove beetles

Cell. 2024 Jul 11;187(14):3563-3584.e26. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2024.05.012. Epub 2024 Jun 17.


How evolution at the cellular level potentiates macroevolutionary change is central to understanding biological diversification. The >66,000 rove beetle species (Staphylinidae) form the largest metazoan family. Combining genomic and cell type transcriptomic insights spanning the largest clade, Aleocharinae, we retrace evolution of two cell types comprising a defensive gland-a putative catalyst behind staphylinid megadiversity. We identify molecular evolutionary steps leading to benzoquinone production by one cell type via a mechanism convergent with plant toxin release systems, and synthesis by the second cell type of a solvent that weaponizes the total secretion. This cooperative system has been conserved since the Early Cretaceous as Aleocharinae radiated into tens of thousands of lineages. Reprogramming each cell type yielded biochemical novelties enabling ecological specialization-most dramatically in symbionts that infiltrate social insect colonies via host-manipulating secretions. Our findings uncover cell type evolutionary processes underlying the origin and evolvability of a beetle chemical innovation.

Keywords: Dalotia; Staphylinidae; beetles; biosynthesis; cell type evolution; gene expression programs; genomics; key innovations.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzoquinones / metabolism
  • Coleoptera* / genetics
  • Coleoptera* / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome, Insect
  • Genomics
  • Phylogeny
  • Symbiosis / genetics
  • Transcriptome


  • Benzoquinones
  • quinone