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How the 100th protein structure solved at Diamond impacts our understanding of how insects smell
Date:9/29/2009

on and processes behind the olfactory functions of insects feed directly in to the development and refinement of new pathways to influence insect host locating behaviours. Plants use chemical signals to repel and attract insects and by harnessing a detailed understanding of the signals, farmers can plant companion species to create 'odours' that would make an area very unattractive or attractive to insects according to what they require. This is more commonly known as the push-pull system.

Many insects depend on chemicals like pheromones to communicate with each other and to find a suitable mate. There are two main sex pheromone components bombykol and bombykal in the silkworm moth. Bombykol, the first insect pheromone discovered 50 years ago is the only component involved in mating behaviour whereas bombykal is an antagonist.

Dr Jing-Jiang Zhou, adds: "So far, we know that odorant binding proteins [OBPs] within the organism pick up pheromones at pores on the outside of the antenna and carry them through a watery layer to the nerve endings. But it is not clear whether they simply transport and release molecules which bind to olfactory receptors or whether they form a specific OBP- pheromone complex which then activates the receptor. The structures we determined using the crystallography capabilities at Diamond give us a view of how these processes work."

Prof. Stuart explains how crystallography helps: "Studying proteins and the role they play within organisms is like having a 100 locks and keys in front of you and not having any idea as to what fits whatBy solving the structure of these proteins, we understand more about their function and matching them becomes much easier."

Dr Zhou concludes: "It's not just the farming community which stands to benefit from this work. These new insights will be fed into the development and refinement of biosensors where detection sensitivity is paramount in areas like blood tests. One of our
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Contact: Sarah Bucknall
sarah.bucknall@diamond.ac.uk
44-123-577-8639
Diamond Light Source
Source:Eurekalert  

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