GAINESVILLE, Fla. If worms could talk, they might tell potential suitors, "I like the way you wriggle," complete with that telltale come slither look. But worms send their valentines via signals known as pheromones, a complex chemical code researchers are now cracking, according to a study published Wednesday (July 23) in the journal Nature.
Scientists from the University of Florida, Cornell University, the California Institute of Technology and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have discovered the first mating pheromone in one of science's most well-studied research subjects, the tiny worm Caenorhabditis elegans. But perhaps even more interesting is what the newly discovered pheromone also directs worms to do hibernate.
At lower levels, the pheromone signals the male C. elegans to mate with its partner. But when the worm population grows and the food supply dwindles, the chemical signal increases and the cue changes from mate to hibernate. This discovery could help researchers find ways to combat more harmful worms that destroy crops and provide clues for scientists studying similar parasite worms, said Arthur Edison, Ph.D., a UF associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the College of Medicine and one of the study's senior authors.
"Even though it's the same compound, it affects different behaviors," said Fatma Kaplan, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate in Edison's lab and one of the study's lead authors. "It's two different life traits converging."
In 2002, Cal Tech researcher Paul Sternberg, Ph.D., discovered that male C. elegans were attracted to a signal the opposite sex was sending out, but scientists weren't sure exactly what it was.
"C. elegans is one of the best-studied organisms on earth," Edison said. "The entire cell lineage of the animal is known from fertilized egg to adult animal. Every single cell division had been mapped out. But until now,
|Contact: April Frawley Birdwell|
University of Florida