Royal Society Publishing

A single mutation alters production and discrimination of Drosophila sex pheromones

Fabrice Marcillac, Yaël Grosjean, Jean-François Ferveur


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 desat1 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 desat1 flies. Moreover, mutant males were unable to discriminate the sex pheromones of control flies. Expression of desat1 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 different products of the same gene, reflecting the pleiotropic activity of desat1.