The processes of gene duplication, followed by divergence and selection, probably underpin the evolution of floral volatiles crucial to plant–insect interactions. The Australian sexually deceptive Chiloglottis orchids use a class of 2,5-dialkylcyclohexan-1,3-dione volatiles or ‘chiloglottones’ to attract specific male wasp pollinators. Here, we explore the expression and evolution of fatty acid pathway genes implicated in chiloglottone biosynthesis.
Both Chiloglottis seminuda and C. trapeziformis produce chiloglottone 1, but only the phylogenetically distinct C. seminuda produces this volatile from both the labellum callus and glandular sepal tips. Transcriptome sequencing and tissue-specific contrasts of the active and non-active floral tissues was performed. The effects of the fatty acid synthase inhibitor cerulenin on chiloglottone production were tested. Patterns of selection and gene evolution were investigated for fatty acid pathway genes.
By capitalizing on a phylogenetically distinct Chiloglottis from earlier studies, Wong et al. show that the transcriptional and biochemical dynamics linked to chiloglottone biosynthesis in active tissues are conserved across Chiloglottis. A combination of tissue-specific expression and relaxed purifying selection operating at specific fatty acid pathway genes may hold the key to the evolution of chiloglottones.