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Lucibufagins are abundant unpalatable defense steroids described from certain North American firefly species, most notably in the genera Photinus Meinwald et al. To test whether lucibufagins are widespread among bioluminescent beetles, we assessed the presence of lucibufagins in P.

While lucibufagins were found in high abundance in P. Since chemical defense is presumably most critical in the long-lived larval stage, we next tested whether lucibufagins are present in all firefly larvae even if they are not present in the adults of certain species. We found lucibufagins in P. Together, these results suggest that the lucibufagin biosynthetic pathway is either a derived trait only found in particular firefly taxa e. Consistent with the former hypothesis, the presence of lucibufagins in non-North-American Lampyrinae has been previously reported Tyler et al.

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A Hypothesized lucibufagin biosynthetic pathway, starting from cholesterol. Y-axis upper limit for P. Sporadic peaks in A. Branch length measures substitutions per site.

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D Genomic loci for P. These genes are found in multiple gene clusters on LG9, supporting origin via tandem duplication. The lucibufagin biosynthetic pathway is currently unknown.

However, their chemical structure suggests a biosynthetic origin from cholesterol followed by a series of hydroxylations, -OH acetylations, and the side-chain oxidative pyrone formation Figure 6A Meinwald et al. We hypothesized that cytochrome Ps, an enzyme family widely involved in metabolic diversification of organic substrates Hamberger and Bak, , could underlie several oxidative reactions in the proposed lucibufagin biosynthetic pathway. We therefore inferred the P phylogeny among our three bioluminescent beetle genomes to identify any lineage-specific genes correlated with lucibufagin presence.

The CYP ortholog of D. Although the exact biochemical function and substrate of D. As ecdysone and lucibufagins are structurally similar, CYP may operate on steroid-like compounds. Therefore, the lineage-specific expansion of the CYP family in P. Alternatively, this CYP expansion in P.

Given the increasingly recognized contributions of symbionts to host metabolism Newman and Cragg, , we characterized the hologenome of all three beetles as potential contributors to metabolic processes related to bioluminescence.


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Whole genome sequencing of our wild-caught and laboratory reared fireflies revealed a rich microbiome. Amongst our firefly genomes, we found various bacterial genomes, viral genomes, and the complete mtDNA for a phorid parasitoid fly, Apocephalus antennatus , the first mtDNA reported for genus Apocephalus.

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This mtDNA was inadvertently included in the P. Independent collection of A. We also sequenced and metagenomically assembled the complete circular genome 1.

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Entomoplasma spp. Broad read coverage for the E. It has been hypothesized that these Entomoplasma mollicutes could play a role in firefly metabolism, specifically via contributing to cholesterol metabolism and lucibufagin biosynthesis Smedley et al. Within our unfiltered A. Limited Proteobacterial symbionts were detected in the I. These viruses are the first reported in any firefly species, and represent only the second report of transgenerational transfer of any Orthomyxoviridae virus Marshall et al. Together, these genomes from the firefly holobiont provide valuable resources for the continued inquiry of the symbiotic associates of fireflies and their biological and ecological significance.

By analyzing the genomic synteny and molecular evolution of the beetle luciferases and their extant and inferred-ancestral homologs, we found strong support for the independent origins of luciferase, and therefore bioluminescence, between fireflies and click beetles. Our approaches and analyses lend molecular evidence to the previous morphology-phylogeny based hypotheses of parallel gain proposed by Darwin and others Darwin, ; Branham and Wenzel, ; Costa, ; Sagegami-Oba et al. While our elaterid luciferase selection analysis strongly supports an independent gain, we did not perform an analogous selection analysis of luciferase homologs across all bioluminescent beetles, due to the lack of genomic data from key related beetle families.

Additional genomic information from early-diverged firefly lineages, other luminous beetle taxa e.

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Phengodidae and Rhagophthalmidae , and non-luminous elateroid taxa e. As some phylogenetic relationships of fireflies and other lineages of superfamily Elateroidea remain uncertain, continued efforts to produce reference phylogeny for these taxa are required Martin et al. Toward this goal, the recently published Pyrocoelia pectoralis Lampyrinae firefly genome is an important advance which will contribute to future phylogenetic and evolutionary studies Fu et al. The independent origins of the firefly and click beetle luciferases provide an exemplary natural model system to understand enzyme evolution through parallel mutational trajectories and the evolution of complex metabolic traits generally.

But while parallel evolution of luciferase implies evolutionary independence of bioluminescence overall, the reality may be more complex, and the other subtraits of bioluminescence amongst the bioluminescent beetles likely possess different evolutionary histories from luciferase. While subtraits presumably dependent on an efficient luciferase, such as specialized tissues and neural control, almost certainly arose well after luciferase specialization, and thus can be inferred to also have independent origins between fireflies and click beetles, luciferin, which was presumably a prerequisite to luciferase neofunctionalization, may have been present in their common ancestor.

Microbial endosymbionts, such as the tenericutes detected in our P. Alternatively, recent reports have shown that firefly luciferin is readily produced non-enzymatically by mixing benzoquinone and cysteine Kanie et al. Benzoquinone is known to be a defense compound of distantly related beetles Dettner, and other arthropods e. Therefore, the evolutionary role of sporadic low-level luciferin synthesis through spontaneous chemical reactions, either in the ancestral bioluminescent taxa themselves, or in non-bioluminescent taxa, and dietary acquisition of luciferin by either the ancestral or modern bioluminescent taxa, should be considered.

To decipher between these alternative evolutionary possibilities, the discovery of genes involved in luciferin metabolism in fireflies and other bioluminescent beetles will be essential. Here, as a first step toward that goal, we identified conserved, enriched and highly expressed enzymes of the firefly lantern that are strong candidates in luciferin metabolism and the elusive luciferin de novo biosynthetic pathway.

Ultimately focused experimentation will be needed to decipher the biochemical function of these enzymes. The early evolution of firefly bioluminescence was likely associated with an aposematic role. The adaptive light production of the primordial firefly or alternatively, a primordial bioluminescent cantharoid beetle that enabled the selection and neofunctionalization of luciferase was perhaps linked to a response to predators by a primitive whole-body oxygen-gated luminescence, where a startle-response mediated increase in hemolymph oxygenation through spiracle opening and escape locomotion caused a concomitant increase in luminescence Buck and Case, ; Case, Alternatively, an early role for firefly luminescence in mate attraction has not been ruled out Buck and Case, The presence of particular unpalatable defense compounds in all extant fireflies would be consistent with an ancestral role and the former hypothesis, and the chemical analysis of tissues across species and life stages presented in this work provides new insights into the evolutionary occurrence of lucibufagins, the most well-studied defense compounds associated with fireflies.

Our results reject lucibufagins as ancestral defense compounds of fireflies, but rather suggest them as a derived metabolic trait associated with Lampyrinae. Additional chemical analyses across more lineages of fireflies are needed, however, to further support or falsify this hypothesis. Toward this goal, the high sensitivity of our LC-HRAM-MS and MS 2 molecular networking-based lucibufagin identification approach is particularly well suited to broadened sampling in the future, including those of rare taxa and possibly museum specimens.

Combined with genomic data showing a concomitant expansion of the CYP gene family in P. Overall, the resources and analyses generated in this study shed valuable light on the evolutionary questions Darwin first pondered, and will enable future studies of the ecology, behavior, and evolution of bioluminescent beetles. These resources will also accelerate the discovery of new enzymes from bioluminescent beetles that could enhance biotechnological applications of bioluminescence.

Finally, we hope that the genomic resources shared here will facilitate the development of effective population genomic tools to monitor and protect wild bioluminescent beetle populations in the face of changing climate and habitats. Detailed materials and methods are available in the Appendices. Methods relating to P. Methods for comparative genomic analyses are given in Appendix 4, while methods for microbiome characterization are given in Appendix 5. References to relevant sections of the Appendices are placed in-line throughout the maintext.


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  6. Genomic assemblies Ppyr1. Mitochondrial genomes for P. The complete genome of Entomoplasma luminosum subsp.

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    Other supporting datasets are available on FigShare Appendix 6. Photinus pyralis Linnaeus, is amongst the most widespread and abundant of all U.


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    It inspired extensive work on the biochemistry and physiology of firefly bioluminescence in the early 20th century, and the first luciferase gene was cloned from this species de Wet et al. A habitat generalist, P. For example, the authors have observed P. Adults rest on vegetation during the day and signaling begins as early as 20 min before sunset Lloyd, Male flashing is cued by ambient light levels, thus shaded or unshaded habitats can show up to a 30 min difference in the initiation of male flashing Lloyd, Males can be cued to flash outside of true twilight if exposed to light intensities simulating twilight Case, Faust, M.

    Courtship activity lasts for 30—45 min and both sexes participate in a bioluminescent flash dialog, as is typical for Photinus fireflies. Males emit their patrol flash while dipping down and then ascending vertically, creating a distinctive J-shaped flash gesture Lloyd, ; Case, Figure 1A. During courtship, females perch on vegetation and respond to a male patrol flash by twisting their abdomen toward the source of the flash and giving a single response flash given after a 2—3 s delay Video 1. Females have fully developed wings and are capable of flight.