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    True water bugs (Nepomorpha) are mostly predacious insects that live in aquatic habitats. They use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to inject venomous saliva that facilitates the capture and extra-oral digestion of prey animals, but their venom can also be deployed for defence. In Central Europe, nepomorph species representing different families coexist in the same habitat. However, their feeding ecology, including venom composition and deployment, has not been investigated in detail. We used an integrated proteotranscriptomic and bioactivity-based approach to test whether venom composition and activity differ between four water bug species sharing the same habitat but occupying different ecological niches. We found considerable species-dependent differences in the composition of digestive enzymes and venom components that probably evolved as adaptations to particular food sources, foraging strategies and/or microhabitats. The venom of Corixa punctata differed substantially from that of the three strictly predatory species (Ilyocoris cimicoides, Notonecta glauca and Nepa cinerea), and the abundance of herbivory-associated proteins confirms a mostly plant-based diet. Our findings reveal independent adaptations of the digestive and defensive enzyme repertoires accompanied by the evolution of distinct feeding strategies in aquatic bugs.


    Maike L Fischer, Sol A Yepes Vivas, Natalie Wielsch, Roy Kirsch, Andreas Vilcinskas, Heiko Vogel. You are what you eat-ecological niche and microhabitat influence venom activity and composition in aquatic bugs. Proceedings. Biological sciences. 2023 Mar 29;290(1995):20222064

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    PMID: 36946119

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