A deceptive pollination system targeting drosophilids through olfactory mimicry of yeast

Curr Biol. 2010 Oct 26;20(20):1846-52. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.09.033. Epub 2010 Oct 7.


In deceptive pollination, insects are bamboozled into performing nonrewarded pollination. A prerequisite for the evolutionary stability in such systems is that the plants manage to generate a perfect sensory impression of a desirable object in the insect nervous system [1]. The study of these plants can provide important insights into sensory preference of their visiting insects. Here, we present the first description of a deceptive pollination system that specifically targets drosophilid flies. We show that the examined plant (Arum palaestinum) accomplishes its deception through olfactory mimicry of fermentation, a strategy that represents a novel pollination syndrome. The lily odor is composed of volatiles characteristic of yeast, and produces in Drosophila melanogaster an antennal detection pattern similar to that elicited by a range of fermentation products. By functional imaging, we show that the lily odors target a specific subset of odorant receptors (ORs), which include the most conserved OR genes in the drosophilid olfactome. Furthermore, seven of eight visiting drosophilid species show a congruent olfactory response pattern to the lily, in spite of comprising species pairs separated by ∼40 million years [2], showing that the lily targets a basal function of the fly nose, shared by species with similar ecological preference.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropod Antennae / metabolism
  • Arum / chemistry*
  • Chemotaxis / physiology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Molecular Structure
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / metabolism
  • Pollination / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / analysis*
  • Yeasts / chemistry


  • Volatile Organic Compounds