Rebholz, Z., Lancaster, J., Larose, H., Khrimian, A., Luck, K., Sparks, M. E., … & Tholl, D. (2023). Ancient origin and conserved gene function in terpene pheromone and defense evolution of stink bugs and hemipteran insects. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 152, 103879.
Insects use diverse arrays of small molecules such as metabolites of the large class of terpenes for intra- and inter-specific communication and defense. These molecules are synthesized by specialized metabolic pathways; however, the origin of enzymes involved in terpene biosynthesis and their evolution in insect genomes is still poorly understood. We addressed this question by investigating the evolution of isoprenyl diphosphate synthase (IDS)-like genes with terpene synthase (TPS) function in the family of stink bugs (Pentatomidae) within the large order of piercing–sucking Hemipteran insects. Stink bugs include species of global pest status, many of which emit structurally related 15-carbon sesquiterpenes as sex or aggregation pheromones. We provide evidence for the emergence of IDS-type TPS enzymes at the onset of pentatomid evolution over 100 million years ago, coinciding with the evolution of flowering plants. Stink bugs of different geographical origin maintain small IDS-type families with genes of conserved TPS function, which stands in contrast to the diversification of TPS genes in plants. Expanded gene mining and phylogenetic analysis in other hemipteran insects further provides evidence for an ancient emergence of IDS-like genes under presumed selection for terpene-mediated chemical interactions, and this process occurred independently from a similar evolution of IDS-type TPS genes in beetles. Our findings further suggest differences in TPS diversification in insects and plants in conjunction with different modes of gene functionalization in chemical interactions.