Male moths use species-specific sex pheromones to identify and orientate toward conspecific females. Odorant receptors (ORs) for sex pheromone substances have been identified as sex pheromone receptors in various moth species. However, direct in vivo evidence linking the functional role of these ORs with behavioural responses is lacking. In the silkmoth, Bombyx mori, female moths emit two sex pheromone components, bombykol and bombykal, but only bombykol elicits sexual behaviour in male moths. A sex pheromone receptor BmOR1 is specifically tuned to bombykol and is expressed in specialized olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) in the pheromone sensitive long sensilla trichodea of male silkmoth antennae. Here, we show that disruption of the BmOR1 gene, mediated by transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), completely removes ORN sensitivity to bombykol and corresponding pheromone-source searching behaviour in male moths. Furthermore, transgenic rescue of BmOR1 restored normal behavioural responses to bombykol. Our results demonstrate that BmOR1 is required for the physiological and behavioural response to bombykol, demonstrating that it is the receptor that mediates sex pheromone responses in male silkmoths. This study provides the first direct evidence that a member of the sex pheromone receptor family in moth species mediates conspecific sex pheromone information for sexual behaviour.
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