Phylogenetic Origin and Diversification of RNAi Pathway Genes in Insects
RNA interference (RNAi) refers to the set of molecular processes found in eukaryotic organisms in which small RNA molecules mediate the silencing or down-regulation of target genes. In insects, RNAi serves a number of functions, including regulation of endogenous genes, anti-viral defense, and defense against transposable elements. Despite being well studied in model organisms, such as Drosophila, the distribution of core RNAi pathway genes and their evolution in insects is not well understood. Here we present the most comprehensive overview of the distribution and diversity of core RNAi pathway genes across 100 insect species, encompassing all currently recognized insect orders. We inferred the phylogenetic origin of insect-specific RNAi pathway genes and also identified several hitherto unrecorded gene expansions using whole-body transcriptome data from the international 1KITE (1000 Insect Transcriptome Evolution) project as well as other resources such as i5K (5000 Insect Genome Project). Specifically, we traced the origin of the double stranded RNA binding protein R2D2 to the last common ancestor of winged insects (Pterygota), the loss of Sid-1/Tag-130 orthologs in Antliophora (fleas, flies and relatives, and scorpionflies in a broad sense), and confirm previous evidence for the splitting of the Argonaute proteins Aubergine and Piwi in Brachyceran flies (Diptera, Brachycera). Our study offers new reference points for future experimental research on RNAi-related pathway genes in insects.