Data released on July 31, 2017
The evolution of powered flight is a major innovation that has facilitated the success of insects. Previously, studies of birds, bats, and insects have detected molecular signatures of differing selection regimes in energy-related genes associated with flight evolution and/or loss. Here, using DNA sequences from over 1,000 nuclear and mitochondrial protein-coding genes obtained from insect transcriptomes, we conduct a broader test of which gene categories display positive and relaxed selection at the origin of flight as well as with multiple independent losses of flight.
We detected a number of categories of nuclear genes more often under positive selection in the lineage leading to the winged insects (Pterygota), related to catabolic processes such as protease, as well as splicing-related genes. Flight loss was associated with relaxed selection signatures in splicing genes, mirroring the results for flight evolution. Similar to previous studies of flight loss in various animal taxa, we observed consistently higher non-synonymous-to-synonymous substitution ratios in mitochondrial genes of flightless lineages, indicative of relaxed selection in energy-related genes. While oxidative phosphorylation genes were not detected as being under selection with the origin of flight specifically, they were most often detected as being under positive selection in holometabolous insects as compared with other insect lineages.