One of the defining features of the evolutionary success of insects is the morphological diversification of their appendages, especially mouthparts. Although most insects share a common mouthpart ground plan, there is remarkable diversity in the relative size and shapes of these appendages among different insect lineages. One of the most prominent examples of mouthpart modification can be found in the enlargement of mandibles in stag beetles (Coleoptera, Insecta). In order to understand the proximate mechanisms of mouthpart modification, we investigated the function of appendage-patterning genes in mandibular enlargement during extreme growth of the sexually dimorphic mandibles of the stag beetle Cyclommatus metallifer. Based on knowledge from Drosophila and Tribolium studies, we focused on seven appendage patterning genes (Distal-less (Dll), aristaless (al), dachshund (dac), homothorax (hth), Epidermal growth factor receptor (Egfr), escargot (esg), and Keren (Krn). In order to characterize the developmental function of these genes, we performed functional analyses by using RNA interference (RNAi). Importantly, we found that RNAi knockdown of dac resulted in a significant mandible size reduction in males but not in female mandibles. In addition to reducing the size of mandibles, dac knockdown also resulted in a loss of the serrate teeth structures on the mandibles of males and females. We found that al and hth play a significant role during morphogenesis of the large male-specific inner mandibular tooth. On the other hand, knockdown of the distal selector gene Dll did not affect mandible development, supporting the hypothesis that mandibles likely do not contain the distal-most region of the ancestral appendage and therefore co-option of Dll expression is unlikely to be involved in mandible enlargement in stag beetles. In addition to mandible development, we explored possible roles of these genes in controlling the divergent antennal morphology of Coleoptera.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.