Functional characterisation of two Δ12-desaturases demonstrates targeted production of linoleic acid as pheromone precursor in Nasonia

Florian Semmelmann, Naoki Kabeya, Miriama Malcicka, Astrid Bruckmann, Bastian Broschwitz, Kristina Straub, Rainer Merkl, Oscar Monroig, Reinhard Sterner, Joachim Ruther, Jacintha Ellers

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    Insect pheromones are often derived from fatty acid metabolism. Fatty acid desaturases, enzymes introducing double bonds into fatty acids, are crucial for the biosynthesis of these chemical signals. Δ12-desaturases catalyse the biosynthesis of linoleic acid by introducing a second double bond into oleic acid, but have been identified in only a few animal species. Here, we report the functional characterisation of two Δ12-desaturases, Nvit_D12a and Nvit_D12b, from the parasitic wasp Nasonia vitripennis. We demonstrate that Nvit_D12a is expressed in the rectal vesicle of males where they produce a linoleic acid-derived sex pheromone to attract virgin females. 13C-labelling experiments with Urolepis rufipes, a closely related species belonging to the 'Nasonia group', revealed that females, but not males, are able to synthesise linoleic acid. U. rufipes males produce an isoprenoid sex pheromone in the same gland and do not depend on linoleic acid for pheromone production. This suggests that Δ12-desaturases are common in the 'Nasonia group', but acquired a specialised function in chemical communication of those species that use linoleic acid as a pheromone precursor. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that insect Δ12-desaturases have evolved repeatedly from Δ9-desaturases in different insect taxa. Hence, insects have developed a way to produce linoleic acid independent of the omega desaturase subfamily which harbours all of the eukaryotic Δ12-desaturases known so far.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberjeb201038
    Pages (from-to)1-8
    Number of pages8
    JournalThe Journal of experimental biology
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2019


    FundersFunder number
    Japan Society for the Promotion of Science16J06812, 19K15908
    University of Wollongong
    Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek865.12.003


      • Biosynthesis
      • Nasonia vitripennis
      • Parasitic wasp
      • Sex pheromone
      • Urolepis rufipes
      • Δ12-desaturase


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