IMP Director Barry Dickson and his group are interested in the genetic basis of innate behaviour. They focus on the reproductive behaviour of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Two years ago, the team was able to identify the fruitless gene as a key regulator of mating behaviour.
For 20 years, scientists have been trying to identify another molecular switch which changes the behaviour of female insects after mating. It makes them lose interest in further sexual contact and start laying eggs. Mosquitoes, once fertilized, look out for a meal of blood and may transmit the malaria parasite along the way.
The trigger for the behavioral switch is a factor present in the seminal fluid of male insects. This sex peptide (SP), as it is called in Drosophila, has been known to scientists for quite a while. Nilay Yapici, a PhD student in Barry Dickson’s team, has now identified the receptor (SPR) responsible for the effect of SP and thus revealed the underlying molecular mechanism. She also showed that the gene for SPR is active in the reproductive organs as well as the brain of the flies.
To get this far, it took two years of painstaking work and a scientific tool which was developed over the past few years by the Dickson group. This “Drosophila RNAi Library” is a collection of 22,000 fly strains and has recently been made available to researchers worldwide. Due to this collection, it is now possible to switch off any chosen gene in the fly. By doing so, neurobiologists are able to identify genes that influence behaviour.
Nilay Yapici studied 22,000 female flies and observed how they behaved after mating. In 130 cases, she found flies which continued to mate and laid very few or no eggs. Further evaluation of these genes and subsequent experiments with cell cultures led to the identification of the long-sought receptor, SPR. By activating or disrupting SPR in specific neurons, the receptor could be localized in the central nervous system of the fly.
Apart from the benefit to basic research, the discovery might offer new approaches for controlling the reproductive or host-seeking behaviours of various agricultural pests and human disease carriers. The molecular mechanism has remained remarkably stable in the course of evolution and SPR-like receptors can be found in many insect species. Ms. Yapici thinks that “It might be possible to develop a substance that blocks the receptor SPR. This inhibitor would work as a kind of ‘birth control pill’: female insects would continue to mate but would not lay eggs.”
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Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
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