Evolution of a Cockroach Allergen into the Major Protein of Termite Royal Jelly

Jan A. Veenstra
IJMS. 2023-06-18; 24(12): 10311
DOI: 10.3390/ijms241210311

Termites live in colonies, and their members belong to different castes that each have their specific role within the termite society. In well-established colonies of higher termites, the only food the founding female, the queen, receives is saliva from workers; such queens can live for many years and produce up to 10,000 eggs per day. In higher termites, worker saliva must thus constitute a complete diet and therein resembles royal jelly produced by the hypopharyngeal glands of honeybee workers that serves as food for their queens; indeed, it might as well be called termite royal jelly. However, whereas the composition of honeybee royal jelly is well established, that of worker termite saliva in higher termites remains largely unknown. In lower termites, cellulose-digesting enzymes constitute the major proteins in worker saliva, but these enzymes are absent in higher termites. Others identified a partial protein sequence of the major saliva protein of a higher termite and identified it as a homolog of a cockroach allergen. Publicly available genome and transcriptome sequences from termites make it possible to study this protein in more detail. The gene coding the termite ortholog was duplicated, and the new paralog was preferentially expressed in the salivary gland. The amino acid sequence of the original allergen lacks the essential amino acids methionine, cysteine and tryptophan, but the salivary paralog incorporated these amino acids, thus allowing it to become more nutritionally balanced. The gene is found in both lower and higher termites, but it is in the latter that the salivary paralog gene got reamplified, facilitating an even higher expression of the allergen. This protein is not expressed in soldiers, and, like the major royal jelly proteins in honeybees, it is expressed in young but not old workers.

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