Evolution of endoglucanase genes in subterranean and surface isopod crustaceans from Central Western Australia

Mohammad Javidkar, Steven J.B. Cooper, Nahid Shokri Bousjein, William F. Humphreys, Rachael A. King, Andrew D. Austin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent studies have identified a significant number of endogenous cellulase genes in various arthropods, including isopods, allowing them to process hydrocarbons efficiently as a food source. While this research has provided insight into underlying gene-level processes in cellulose decomposition by arthropods, little is known about the existence and expression of cellulase genes in species from cave environments where carbohydrates are sparse. To investigate whether endogenous cellulase genes are maintained in subterranean species, we sequenced the transcriptomes of two subterranean paraplatyarthrid isopod species from calcrete (carbonate) aquifers of central Western Australia and a related surface isopod species. Seven protein-coding open-reading frames associated with endoglucanase genes were identified in all species. Orthology inference analyses, using a wide range of cellulase sequences from available databases, supported the endogenous origin of the putative endoglucanase genes. Selection analyses revealed that these genes are primarily subject to purifying selection in most of the sites for both surface and subterranean isopod species, indicating that they are likely to encode functional peptides. Furthermore, evolutionary branch models supported the hypothesis of an adaptive shift in selective pressure acting on the subterranean lineages compared with the ancestral lineage and surface species. Branch-site models also revealed a few amino acid sites on the subterranean branches to be under positive selection, suggesting the acquisition of novel adaptations to the subterranean environments. These findings also imply that hydrocarbons exist in subsurface aquifers, albeit at reduced levels, and have been utilized by subterranean isopods as a source of energy for millions of years.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10552
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


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