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Open Access Research article

The small heat shock protein (sHSP) genes in the silkworm, Bombyx mori, and comparative analysis with other insect sHSP genes

Zi-Wen Li1, Xue Li1, Quan-You Yu2, Zhong-Huai Xiang1, Hirohisa Kishino3 and Ze Zhang12*

Author Affiliations

1 The Key Sericultural Laboratory of Agricultural Ministry, Southwest University, Chongqing 400715, PR China

2 The Institute of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Chongqing University, Chongqing 400044, PR China

3 The Laboratory of Biometrics and Bioinformatics, Graduate School of Agriculture and Life Science, The University of Tokyo, 1-1-1, Yayoi, Bunkyo, Tokyo, 113-8657, Japan

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:215  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-215

Published: 28 August 2009



Small heat shock proteins (sHSPs) are products of heat shock response and of other stress responses, and ubiquitous in all three domains of life, archaea, bacteria, and eukarya. They mainly function as molecular chaperones to protect proteins from being denatured in extreme conditions. Study on insect sHSPs could provide some insights into evolution of insects that have adapted to diverse niches in the world.


Taking advantage of the newly assembled genome sequence, we performed a genome-wide analysis of the candidate sHSP genes in the silkworm, Bombyx mori. Based on known silkworm sHSP sequences, we identified 16 silkworm sHSP genes. Most of them are distributed on two silkworm chromosomes 5 and 27, respectively. 15 of 16 silkworm sHSPs have expression evidence. The comparative analysis of insect sHSPs from B. mori, Drosophila melanogaster, Apis mellifera, Tribolium castaneum, and Anopheles gambiae revealed that there is only one orthologous cluster whereas remaining clusters are species-specific on the phylogenetic tree. This suggested that most of sHSPs might have diverged in function across insects investigated. In addition, the data presented in this study also revealed that sHSPs in the insect orthologous cluster are highly conserved in both sequence and expression pattern. In sum, insect sHSPs show a completely different evolutionary pattern from that found in vertebrate sHSPs.


B. mori has the largest number of insect sHSP genes characterized to date, including 16 genes. The inference that most species-specific sHSPs might have diverged in function across insects investigated will help us understand the adaptability of these insects to diverse environments.