Olfaction plays a significant role in insect behavior during critical steps of their life-cycle, such as host-seeking during foraging or the search for a mate. Here, we explored genetic polymorphism within and divergence between sibling species of the African malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae sensu lato in the gene sequence and encoded peptides of an odorant receptor, Or39. This study included sympatric specimens of An. gambiae sensu stricto, An. coluzzii and An. arabiensis sampled together in the village of Dielmo, Senegal.
A 1,601 bp genomic sequence composed of 6 exons and 5 introns was obtained for Or39 from 6–8 mosquitoes in each of the 3 species. DNA sequence analysis revealed a high level of molecular polymorphism (π = 0.0154; Haplotype diversity = 0.867) and high overall genetic differentiation between taxa (Fst > 0.92, P < 0.01). In total, 50 parsimony informative sites were recorded. Throughout the whole dataset, there were 13 non-synonymous mutations resulting in aminoacid changes in the encoded protein. Each of the 6 different identified peptides was species-specific and none was shared across species. Most aminoacid changes were located on the intracellular domains of the protein. However, intraspecific polymorphisms in An. gambiae and An. arabiensis as well as species-specific mutations also occurred in the first extracellular domain.
Although obtained from a limited number of specimens, our results point towards genetic differences between cryptic species within the An. gambiae complex in a gene of biological relevance that might be of evolutionary significance when exposed to disruptive selective forces.