Symbiotic bacteria enable olive fly larvae to overcome host defences

Michael Ben-Yosef*, Zohar Pasternak, Edouard Jurkevitch, Boaz Yuval

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


Ripe fruit offer readily available nutrients for many animals, including fruit fly larvae (Diptera: Tephritidae) and their associated rot-inducing bacteria. Yet, during most of their ontogeny, fruit remain chemically defended and effectively suppress herbivores and pathogens by high levels of secondary metabolites. Olive flies (Bactrocera oleae) are uniquely able to develop in unripe olives. Unlike other frugivorous tephritids, the larvae maintain bacteria confined within their midgut caeca. We examined the interaction between larvae, their associated bacteria, and fruit chemical defence, hypothesizing that bacterial contribution to larval development is contingent on the phenology of fruit defensive chemistry. We demonstrate that larvae require their natural complement of bacteria (Candidatus Erwinia dacicola: Enterobacteriaceae) in order to develop in unripe olives. Conversely, when feeding on ripe fruit, larval development proceeds independently of these bacteria. Our experiments suggest that bacteria counteract the inhibitory effect of oleuropein—the principal phenolic glycoside in unripe olives. In light of these results, we suggest that the unique symbiosis in olive flies, compared with other frugivorous tephritids, is understood by considering the relationship between the fly, bacteria and fruit chemistry. When applied in an evolutionary context, this approach may also point out the forces which shaped symbioses across the Tephritidae.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number150170
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Authors.


  • Bacteria
  • Fruit phenology
  • Olive fly
  • Secondary metabolites
  • Symbiosis
  • Tephritidae


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