, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 93-108

The Evolution of Hexamerins and the Phylogeny of Insects

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Abstract.

The evolutionary relationships among arthropod hemocyanins and insect hexamerins were investigated. A multiple sequence alignment of 12 hemocyanin and 31 hexamerin subunits was constructed and used for studying sequence conservation and protein phylogeny. Although hexamerins and hemocyanins belong to a highly divergent protein superfamily and only 18 amino acid positions are identical in all the sequences, the core structures of the three protein domains are well conserved. Under the assumption of maximum parsimony, a phylogenetic tree was obtained that matches perfectly the assumed phylogeny of the insect orders. An interesting common clade of the hymenopteran and coleopteran hexamerins was observed. In most insect orders, several paralogous hexamerin subclasses were identified that diversified after the splitting of the major insect orders. The dipteran arylphorin/LSP-1-like hexamerins were subject to closer examination, demonstrating hexamerin gene amplification and gene loss in the brachyceran Diptera. The hexamerin receptors, which belong to the hexamerin/hemocyanin superfamily, diverged early in insect evolution, before the radiation of the winged insects. After the elimination of some rapidly or slowly evolving sequences, a linearized phylogenetic tree of the hexamerins was constructed under the assumption of a molecular clock. The inferred time scale of hexamerin evolution, which dates back to the Carboniferous, agrees with the available paleontological data and reveals some previously unknown divergence times among and within the insect orders.

Received: 4 August 1997 / Accepted: 29 October 1997