Metatranscriptome analysis of fig flowers provides insights into potential mechanisms for mutualism stability and gall induction

Ellen O. Martinson, Jeremiah D. Hackett, Carlos A. Machado, A. Elizabeth Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


A striking property of the mutualism between figs and their pollinating wasps is that wasps consistently oviposit in the inner flowers of the fig syconium, which develop into galls that house developing larvae. Wasps typically do not use the outer ring of flowers, which develop into seeds. To better understand differences between gall and seed flowers, we used a metatranscriptomic approach to analyze eukaryotic gene expression within fig flowers at the time of oviposition choice and early gall development. Consistent with the unbeatable seed hypothesis, we found significant differences in gene expression between galland seed flowers in receptive syconia prior to oviposition. In particular, transcripts assigned to flavonoids and carbohydrate metabolism were significantly up-regulated in gall flowers relative to seed flowers. In response to oviposition, gall flowers significantly up-regulated the expression of chalcone synthase, which previously has been connected to gall formation in other plants. We propose several genes encoding proteins with signal peptides or associations with venom of other Hymenoptera as candidate genes for gall initiation or growth. This study simultaneously evaluates the gene expression profile of both mutualistic partners in a plant-insect mutualism and provides insight into a possible stability mechanism in the ancient fig-fig wasp association.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0130745
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 19 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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