Evolutionary changes of the importance of olfaction in cetaceans based on the olfactory marker protein gene.
Odontocetes and mysticetes are two extant suborders of cetaceans. It is reported that the former have no sense of olfaction, while the latter can smell in air. To explain the ecological reason why mysticetes still retain their sense of smell, two hypotheses have been proposed - the echolocation-priority hypothesis, which assumes that the acquisition of echolocation causes the reduction of the importance of olfaction, and the filter-feeder hypothesis, which assumes that olfactory ability is important for filter-feeders to locate their prey because clouds of plankton give off a peculiar odor. The olfactory marker protein (OMP) is almost exclusively expressed in vertebrate olfactory receptor neurons, and is considered to play important roles in olfactory systems. In this study, full-length open reading frames of OMP genes were identified in 6 cetacean species and we analyzed the nonsynonymous to synonymous substitution rate ratio based on the maximum likelihood method. The evolutionary changes of the selective pressures on OMP genes did fit better to the filter-feeder hypothesis than to the echolocation-priority hypothesis. In addition, no pseudogenization mutations are found in all five odontocetes OMP genes investigated in this study. It may suggest that OMP retains some function even in 'anosmic' odontocetes.
Gene 492 (2), 349-353, 2012-01-25