Evolution in an ancient detoxification pathway is coupled with a transition to herbivory in the drosophilidae

Andrew D. Gloss, Daniel G. Vassão, Alexander L. Hailey, Anna C. Nelson Dittrich, Katharina Schramm, Michael Reichelt, Timothy J. Rast, Andrzej Weichsel, Matthew G. Cravens, Jonathan Gershenzon, William R. Montfort, Noah K. Whiteman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Chemically defended plant tissues present formidable barriers to herbivores. Although mechanisms to resist plant defenses have been identified in ancient herbivorous lineages, adaptations to overcome plant defenses during transitions to herbivory remain relatively unexplored. The fly genus Scaptomyza is nested within the genus Drosophila and includes species that feed on the living tissue of mustard plants (Brassicaceae), yet this lineage is derived from microbe-feeding ancestors. We found that mustard-feeding Scaptomyza species and microbe-feeding Drosophila melanogaster detoxify mustard oils, the primary chemical defenses in the Brassicaceae, using the widely conserved mercapturic acid pathway. This detoxification strategy differs from other specialist herbivores of mustard plants, which possess derived mechanisms to obviate mustard oil formation. To investigate whether mustard feeding is coupled with evolution in the mercapturic acid pathway, we profiled functional and molecular evolutionary changes in the enzyme glutathione S-transferase D1 (GSTD1), which catalyzes the first step of the mercapturic acid pathway and is induced by mustard defense products in Scaptomyza. GSTD1 acquired elevated activity against mustard oils in one mustard-feeding Scaptomyza species in which GstD1 was duplicated. Structural analysis and mutagenesis revealed that substitutions at conserved residues within and near the substrate-binding cleft account for most of this increase in activity against mustard oils. Functional evolution of GSTD1 was coupled with signatures of episodic positive selection in GstD1 after the evolution of herbivory. Overall, we found that preexisting functions of generalized detoxification systems, and their refinement by natural selection, could play a central role in the evolution of herbivory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2441-2456
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2014


  • Detoxification
  • Drosophila
  • Gene duplication
  • Glutathione S-transferase
  • Isothiocyanate
  • Plant-herbivore interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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