Although the prize expired, unclaimed, long ago, University of New Hampshire professor of biochemistry Stacia Sower and colleagues at two Japanese universities have identified the first reproductive hormone of the hagfish – a gonadatropin -- representing a significant step toward unraveling the mystery of hagfish reproduction.
Their findings, “Evolutionary origin of a functional gonadotropin in the pituitary of the most primitive vertebrate, hagfish,” were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) in September.
“This is a significant breakthrough with hagfish,” says Sower, who was second senior author on this paper, co-authored by principal investigator Katsuhisa Uchida and Sower’s long-time collaborator Masumi Nozaki, both of Niigata University in Japan. Gonadatropins (GTHs) are a protein secreted from the pituitary, stimulating the gonads (ovaries and testes) to produce and release the sex steroid hormones which prompt their growth and maturation. GTHs are produced in response to hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), what Sower calls the “master molecule” for reproduction in vertebrates; its discovery remains the holy grail of understanding hagfish reproduction.
At 500 million years old, hagfish are the oldest living vertebrate, predating the dinosaurs. “They’re one of evolution’s great success stories,” says Sower, who has devoted the majority of her 30-year career researching hagfish and the similarly un-charismatic lamprey eels. “Here’s this animal with a backbone that we don’t know anything about.” They’re notoriously difficult to study, in part because their habitat is the ocean floor at 100 meters or more.
Yet their important evolutionary position makes hagfish worthy of scientific inquiry. “We look at the evolution of the hormones and receptors and say, ‘have they retrained characteristics of their ancestral forms, or are they more similar to higher vertebrates?’” says Sower. “They’re a key to understanding the evolution of later evolved vertebrates.”
Compounding the urgency of better understanding hagfish reproduction is their growing importance as a fishery in the Gulf of Maine. Despite their vicious nature and least appealing characteristic – the stress-induced secretion of mucous from up to 200 slime glands along their bodies – hagfish are prized, particularly in Asian markets. Their tough, soft skin is marketed as “eel” skin for wallets, belts and other items (“Because they’re not going to sell something that says ‘hagfish,’” says Sower, pulling out her own flawless 20-year-old eel skin wallet).
Fished in the Gulf of Maine since 1992, hagfish have been fished out of the waters off Korea and Japan and overfished on the U.S. West coast. They also play a significant role in nutrient cycling and ocean-floor clean-up, feeding primarily on dead and dying fish. Lacking knowledge on their reproductive functions – how, when and where they spawn – the hagfish could be fished to extinction, says Sower.
Sower, who directs the Center for Molecular and Comparative Endocrinology at UNH, has worked with Nozaki on hagfish reproduction since both scientists were postdoctoral researchers at the University of Washington in 1980. The two, along with Hiroshi Kawauchi of Kitasato University in Japan, have shared students and researchers through a formal collaboration that’s produced more than 30 papers. It’s also, notes Sower, produced many failures as they’ve labored to identify the hagfish GTH.
“Now we’re filling in the gaps of what we know,” she says.
To download a copy of the paper, go to http://www.pnas.org/content/107/36/15832.long.
This work was supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Sower’s ongoing work on hagfish gonadotropin has also been funded in part by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station.
The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state's flagship public institution, enrolling 12,200 undergraduate and 2,200 graduate students.
Beth Potier | Newswise Science News
BigH1 -- The key histone for male fertility
14.12.2017 | Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona)
Guardians of the Gate
14.12.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie
MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.
Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...
Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong
Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
14.12.2017 | Health and Medicine
14.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
14.12.2017 | Life Sciences