Molecular mechanisms of mutualistic and antagonistic interactions in a plant–pollinator association

Rong Wang, Yang Yang, Yi Jing, Simon T. Segar, Yu Zhang, Gang Wang, Jin Chen, Qing Feng Liu, Shan Chen, Yan Chen, Astrid Cruaud, Yuan Yuan Ding, Derek W. Dunn, Qiang Gao, Philip M. Gilmartin, Kai Jiang, Finn Kjellberg, Hong Qing Li, Yuan Yuan Li, Jian Quan LiuMin Liu, Carlos A. Machado, Ray Ming, Jean Yves Rasplus, Xin Tong, Ping Wen, Huan Ming Yang, Jing Jun Yang, Ye Yin, Xing Tan Zhang, Yuan Ye Zhang, Hui Yu, Zhen Yue, Stephen G. Compton, Xiao Yong Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many insects metamorphose from antagonistic larvae into mutualistic adult pollinators, with reciprocal adaptation leading to specialized insect–plant associations. It remains unknown how such interactions are established at molecular level. Here we assemble high-quality genomes of a fig species, Ficus pumila var. pumila, and its specific pollinating wasp, Wiebesia pumilae. We combine multi-omics with validation experiments to reveal molecular mechanisms underlying this specialized interaction. In the plant, we identify the specific compound attracting pollinators and validate the function of several key genes regulating its biosynthesis. In the pollinator, we find a highly reduced number of odorant-binding protein genes and an odorant-binding protein mainly binding the attractant. During antagonistic interaction, we find similar chemical profiles and turnovers throughout the development of galled ovules and seeds, and a significant contraction of detoxification-related gene families in the pollinator. Our study identifies some key genes bridging coevolved mutualists, establishing expectations for more diffuse insect–pollinator systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)974-986
Number of pages13
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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