New research has found that a protein associated with learning and memory plays an integral role in changing the behaviour of locusts from that of harmless grasshoppers into swarming pests.
Desert Locusts are a species of grasshopper that have evolved a Jekyll-and-Hyde disposition to survive in their harsh environment. In their solitary phase, they avoid other locusts and occur in very low density. When the sporadic rains arrive and food is more plentiful, their numbers increase.
However, as the rains cease the locusts are driven onto dwindling patches of vegetation. This forced proximity to other locusts causes a little-understood transformation into their 'gregarious phase': they rapidly become very mobile, actively seek the company of other locusts, and thus form huge swarms that sweep the landscape in their search for food.
The new research, led by Dr Swidbert Ott from the University of Cambridge in collaboration with the University of Leuven, explored the role of a specific signalling protein in the locusts' brain, known as Protein Kinase A, in this transition. They found that this protein, which is typically associated with learning in other animals, has been co-opted to control the transition from solitary to gregarious behaviour in locusts.
They hypothesize that the process whereby locusts 'remember' the experience of crowding and modify their behaviour resembles learning. The 'learning' protein acts as a molecular switch in a social feedback loop, because gregarious behaviour ensures that crowding is maintained. The new results indicate that the biochemical mechanism that triggers locust swarming is similar to what enables humans and other animals to respond to social change.
Dr Ott added: "Learning is when you change your behaviour in the light of new experience, and this is what a locust needs to do when it gets caught up in the crowd. What is amazing is that the parallels don't just end there, they extend to the specific proteins that bring about the behavioural changes."
Desert locusts (Schistocera gregaria) are one of the most devastating insect pests, affecting 20% of the world's land surface through periodic swarms containing billions of locusts stretching over many square kilometres. Different species of locust continue to inflict severe economic hardship on large parts of Africa and China. In November 2008, swarms six kilometres long plagued Australia.
The research will be published this week in the journal PNAS.For additional information please contact:
2. Images available upon request.
3. Dr Ott is supported by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, and his laboratory is funded through grants from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust.
Genevieve Maul | EurekAlert!
Not of Divided Mind
19.01.2017 | Hertie-Institut für klinische Hirnforschung (HIH)
CRISPR meets single-cell sequencing in new screening method
19.01.2017 | CeMM Forschungszentrum für Molekulare Medizin der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
19.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
19.01.2017 | Life Sciences
19.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy