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Open Access Open Badges Research article

The chemoreceptor genes of the waterflea Daphnia pulex: many Grs but no Ors

D Carolina Peñalva-Arana1*, Michael Lynch1 and Hugh M Robertson2

Author affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA

2 Department of Entomology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:79  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-79

Published: 21 April 2009



Chemoreception is vitally important for all animals, yet little is known about the genetics of chemoreception in aquatic organisms. The keystone species Daphnia pulex, a well known crustacean, is the first aquatic invertebrate to have its genome sequenced. This has allowed us the initial investigation of chemoreceptor genes in an aquatic invertebrate, and to begin the study of chemoreceptor evolution across the arthropod phylum.


We describe 58 Grs (gustatory receptors), belonging to the insect chemoreceptor superfamily, which were identified bioinformatically in the draft genome of the crustacean waterflea Daphnia pulex. No genes encoding proteins similar to the insect odorant receptors (Ors) were identified. These 58 Grs form 3 distinctive subfamilies of 37, 12, and 5 genes, as well as a highly divergent singleton (Gr58). In addition, Grs55–57 share distinctive amino acid motifs and cluster with the sugar receptors of insects, and may illuminate the origin of this distinctive subfamily. ESTs, tiling array, and PCR amplification results support 34 predicted gene models, and preliminary expression data comparing the sexes indicates potential female-biased expression for some genes.


This repertoire of 58 chemoreceptors presumably mediates the many chemoperception abilities of waterfleas. While it is always possible that the entire Or gene lineage was lost at some point in the history of Daphnia pulex, we think it more likely that the insect Or lineage is indeed a relatively recently expanded gene lineage concomitant with the evolution of terrestriality in the insects or their hexapod ancestors.