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!
Sensory Perception Is Not a One-Way Street
17.10.2018 | Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
Sex or food? Decision-making in single-cell organisms
17.10.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz (Germany) together with scientists from Dresden, Leipzig, Sofia (Bulgaria) and Madrid (Spain) have now developed and characterized a novel, metal-organic material which displays electrical properties mimicking those of highly crystalline silicon. The material which can easily be fabricated at room temperature could serve as a replacement for expensive conventional inorganic materials used in optoelectronics.
Silicon, a so called semiconductor, is currently widely employed for the development of components such as solar cells, LEDs or computer chips. High purity...
Augsburg chemists present a new technology for compressing, storing and transporting highly volatile gases in porous frameworks/New prospects for gas-powered vehicles
Storage of highly volatile gases has always been a major technological challenge, not least for use in the automotive sector, for, for example, methane or...
When we put water in a freezer, water molecules crystallize and form ice. This change from one phase of matter to another is called a phase transition. While this transition, and countless others that occur in nature, typically takes place at the same fixed conditions, such as the freezing point, one can ask how it can be influenced in a controlled way.
We are all familiar with such control of the freezing transition, as it is an essential ingredient in the art of making a sorbet or a slushy. To make a cold...
Thin organic layers provide machines and equipment with new functions. They enable, for example, tiny energy recuperators. In future, these will be installed...
Das Zusammenspiel aus Struktur und Dynamik bestimmt die Funktion von Proteinen, den molekularen Werkzeugen der Zelle. Durch Fortschritte in der...
17.10.2018 | Event News
16.10.2018 | Event News
02.10.2018 | Event News
17.10.2018 | Trade Fair News
17.10.2018 | Life Sciences
17.10.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science