Oct 29, 2008

Selection on an antimicrobial peptide defensin in ants

Journal of Molecular Evolution
L Viljakainen, P Pamilo


Ants live in crowded nests with interacting individuals, which makes them particularly prone to infectious diseases. The question is, how do ants cope with the increased risk of pathogen transmission due to sociality? We have studied the molecular evolution of defensin, a gene encoding an antimicrobial protein, in ants. Defensin sequences from several ant species were analyzed with maximum likelihood models of codon substitution to infer selection. Positive selection was detected in the mature region of defensin, whereas the signal and pro regions seem to be evolving neutrally. We also found a significantly higher rate of nonsynonymous substitutions in some phylogenetic lineages, as well as dN/dS >1, suggesting varying selection pressures in different lineages. Earlier studies on the molecular evolution of insect antimicrobial peptide genes have focused on termites and dipteran species, and detected positive selection only in duplicated termicin genes in termites. These findings, together with our present results, provide an indication that the immune systems of social insects (ants and termites) and dipteran insects may have responded differently to the selection pressure caused by microbial pathogens.

Mentioned in this Paper

Immune System
Tertiary Protein Structure
Codon Genus
Codon (Nucleotide Sequence)
Disease Transmission
Genes, vif

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