Expression of biotransformation genes in woodrat (Neotoma) herbivores on novel and ancestral diets: identification of candidate genes responsible for dietary shifts


M. D. Dearing, Fax: 001 801 581 2174; E-mail:


The ability of herbivores to switch diets is thought to be governed by biotransformation enzymes. To identify potential biotransformation enzymes, we conducted a large-scale study on the expression of biotransformation enzymes in herbivorous woodrats (Neotoma lepida). We compared gene expression in a woodrat population from the Great Basin that feeds on the ancestral diet of juniper to one from the Mojave Desert that putatively switched from feeding on juniper to feeding on creosote. Juniper and creosote have notable differences in secondary chemistry, and thus, should require different biotransformation enzymes for detoxification. Individuals from each population were fed juniper and creosote diets separately. After the feeding trials, hepatic mRNA was extracted and hybridized to laboratory rat microarrays. Hybridization of woodrat samples to biotransformation probes on the array was 87%, resulting in a total of 224 biotransformation genes that met quality control standards. Overall, we found large differences in expression of biotransformation genes when woodrats were fed juniper vs. creosote. Mojave woodrats had greater expression of 10× as many biotransformation genes as did Great Basin woodrats on a creosote diet. We identified 24 candidate genes that may be critical in the biotransformation of creosote toxins. Superoxide dismutase, a free radical scavenger, was also expressed to a greater extent by the Mojave woodrats and may be important in controlling oxidative damage during biotransformation. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that biotransformation enzymes limit diet switching and that woodrats in the Mojave have evolved a unique strategy for the biotransformation of creosote toxins.