The complex barnacle perfume: identification of waterborne pheromone homologues in Balanus improvisus and their differential expression during settlement

A key question in barnacle biology is the nature of cues that induce gregarious settlement. One of the characterised cues is the waterborne settlement pheromone (WSP). This study aimed to identify WSP homologues in Balanus improvisus and to investigate their expression during settlement. Six WSP homologues were identified, all containing an N-terminal signal peptide, a conserved core region, and a variable C-terminus comprising several -GR- and -HDDH- motifs. The B. improvisus WSP homologues were expressed in all settlement stages but showed different expression patterns. The homologue most similar to the B. amphitrite WSP was the most abundant and was constantly expressed during settlement. In contrast, several of the other WSP homologues showed the greatest expression in the juvenile stage. The presence of several WSP homologues suggests the existence of a pheromone mix, where con-specificity might be determined by a combination of sequence characteristics and the concentration of the individual components.