The genetic basis of a plant-insect coevolutionary key innovation.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Ehrlich and Raven formally introduced the concept of stepwise coevolution using butterfly and angiosperm interactions in an attempt to account for the impressive biological diversity of these groups. However, many biologists currently envision butterflies evolving 50 to 30 million years (Myr) after the major angiosperm radiation and thus reject coevolutionary origins of butterfly biodiversity. The unresolved central tenet of Ehrlich and Raven's theory is that evolution of plant chemical defenses is followed closely by biochemical adaptation in insect herbivores, and that newly evolved detoxification mechanisms result in adaptive radiation of herbivore lineages. Using one of their original butterfly-host plant systems, the Pieridae, we identify a pierid glucosinolate detoxification mechanism, nitrile-specifier protein (NSP), as a key innovation. Larval NSP activity matches the distribution of glucosinolate in their host plants. Moreover, by using five different temporal estimates, NSP seems to have evolved shortly after the evolution of the host plant group (Brassicales) ( approximately 10 Myr). An adaptive radiation of these glucosinolate-feeding Pierinae followed, resulting in significantly elevated species numbers compared with related clades. Mechanistic understanding in its proper historical context documents more ancient and dynamic plant-insect interactions than previously envisioned. Moreover, these mechanistic insights provide the tools for detailed molecular studies of coevolution from both the plant and insect perspectives.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Wheat, CW; Vogel, H; Wittstock, U; Braby, MF; Underwood, D; Mitchell-Olds, T

Published Date

  • December 2007

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 104 / 51

Start / End Page

  • 20427 - 20431

PubMed ID

  • 18077380

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC2154447

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1091-6490

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0027-8424

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1073/pnas.0706229104


  • eng