Abstract Background Adaptation to new hosts in phytophagous insects often involves mechanisms of host recognition by genes of sensory pathways. Most often the molecular evolution of sensory genes has been explained in the context of the birth-and-death model. The role of positive selection is less understood, especially associated with host adaptation and specialization. Here we aim to contribute evidence for this latter hypothesis by considering the case of Drosophila mojavensis, a species with an evolutionary history shaped by multiple host shifts in a relatively short time scale, and its generalist sister species, D. arizonae. Results We used a phylogenetic and population genetic analysis framework to test for positive selection in a subset of four chemoreceptor genes, one gustatory receptor (Gr) and three odorant receptors (Or), for which their expression has been previously associated with host shifts. We found strong evidence of positive selection at several amino acid sites in all genes investigated, most of which exhibited changes predicted to cause functional effects in these transmembrane proteins. A significant portion of the sites identified as evolving positively were largely found in the cytoplasmic region, although a few were also present in the extracellular domains. Conclusions The pattern of substitution observed suggests that some of these changes likely had an effect on signal transduction as well as odorant recognition and protein-protein interactions. These findings support the role of positive selection in shaping the pattern of variation at chemosensory receptors, both during the specialization onto one or a few related hosts, but as well as during the evolution and adaptation of generalist species into utilizing several hosts.
|Date made available||2018|