Background. The insect cuticle covers the whole body and all appendages and has bi-directionnal selective permeability: it protects against environmental stress and pathogen infection and also helps to reduce water loss. The adult cuticle is often associated with a superficial layer of fatty acid-derived molecules such as waxes and long chain hydrocarbons that prevent rapid dehydration. The waterproofing properties of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs) depend on their chain length and desaturation number. Drosophila CH biosynthesis involves an enzymatic pathway including several elongase and desaturase enzymes. Methods. The link between desiccation resistance and CH profile remains unclear, so we tested (1) experimentally selected desiccation-resistant lines, (2) transgenic flies with altered desaturase expression and (3) natural and laboratory-induced CH variants. We also explored the possible relationship between desiccation resistance, relative water content and fecundity in females. Results. We found that increased desiccation resistance is linked with the increased proportion of desaturated CHs, but not with their total amount. Experimentallyinduced desiccation resistance and CH variation both remained stable after many generations without selection. Conversely, flies with a higher water content and a lower proportion of desaturated CHs showed reduced desiccation resistance. This was also the case in flies with defective desaturase expression in the fat body. Discussion. We conclude that rapidly acquired desiccation resistance, depending on both CH profile and water content, can remain stable without selection in a humid environment. These three phenotypes, which might be expected to show a simple relationship, turn out to have complex physiological and genetic links.
- Fat body