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Comparative genomic analysis of the odorant-binding protein family in 12 Drosophila genomes: purifying selection and birth-and-death evolution

Filipe G Vieira1, Alejandro Sánchez-Gracia12 and Julio Rozas1*

Author Affiliations

1 Departament de Genètica, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Av. Diagonal 645, Barcelona 08028, Spain

2 Departamento de Neurobiología Molecular, Celular y del Desarrollo, Instituto Cajal, CSIC, Av. Dr. Arce 37, Madrid 28002, Spain

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Genome Biology 2007, 8:R235  doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-11-r235

Published: 8 November 2007



Chemoreception is a widespread mechanism that is involved in critical biologic processes, including individual and social behavior. The insect peripheral olfactory system comprises three major multigene families: the olfactory receptor (Or), the gustatory receptor (Gr), and the odorant-binding protein (OBP) families. Members of the latter family establish the first contact with the odorants, and thus constitute the first step in the chemosensory transduction pathway.


Comparative analysis of the OBP family in 12 Drosophila genomes allowed the identification of 595 genes that encode putative functional and nonfunctional members in extant species, with 43 gene gains and 28 gene losses (15 deletions and 13 pseudogenization events). The evolution of this family shows tandem gene duplication events, progressive divergence in DNA and amino acid sequence, and prevalence of pseudogenization events in external branches of the phylogenetic tree. We observed that the OBP arrangement in clusters is maintained across the Drosophila species and that purifying selection governs the evolution of the family; nevertheless, OBP genes differ in their functional constraints levels. Finally, we detect that the OBP repertoire evolves more rapidly in the specialist lineages of the Drosophila melanogaster group (D. sechellia and D. erecta) than in their closest generalists.


Overall, the evolution of the OBP multigene family is consistent with the birth-and-death model. We also found that members of this family exhibit different functional constraints, which is indicative of some functional divergence, and that they might be involved in some of the specialization processes that occurred through the diversification of the Drosophila genus.