Rapid but narrow: Evolutionary adaptation and transcriptional response of Drosophila melanogaster to toxic mould

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Insects have adapted to a multitude of environmental conditions, including the presence of xenobiotic noxious substances. Environmental microorganisms, particularly rich on ephemeral resources, employ these noxious chemicals in a chemical warfare against predators and competitors, driving co-evolutionary adaptations. In order to analyse how environmental microbes may be driving such evolutionary adaptations, we experimentally evolved Drosophila melanogaster populations by exposing larvae to the toxin-producing mould Aspergillus nidulans that infests the flies' breeding substrate. To disentangle the effects of the mycotoxin Sterigmatocystin from other substrate modifications inflicted by the mould, we used the following four selection regimes: (i) control without fungus, (ii) A. nidulans wild type, (iii) a mutant of A. nidulans ΔlaeA with impaired toxin production, (iv) synthetic Sterigmatocystin. Experimental evolution was carried out in five independent D. melanogaster populations each, for a total of 11 generations. We further combined our evolution experiment with transcriptome analysis to identify evolutionary shifts in gene expression due to the selection regimes and mould confrontation. Populations that evolved in presence of the toxin-producing mould or the pure mycotoxin rapidly adapted to the respective conditions and showed higher viability in subsequent confrontations. Yet, mycotoxin-selected populations had no advantage in A. nidulans wild type confrontation. Moreover, distinctive changes in gene expression related to the selection-regime contrast were only associated with the toxin-producing-fungus regime and comprised a narrow set of genes. Thus, it needs the specific conditions of the selection agent to enable adaptation to the fungus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2784-2797
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Jun-2023


  • Animals
  • Drosophila melanogaster/microbiology
  • Sterigmatocystin
  • Plant Breeding
  • Fungi
  • Adaptation, Physiological/genetics

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