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New study documents use of hormone progesterone in simple microscopic aquatic animals
Date:6/14/2010

in between. During most of the year, the rotifer population consists only of females, which reproduce by creating clones of themselves. But when unfavorable environmental conditions threaten such as the loss of algae food about a third of the rotifer population switches to sexual reproduction, which is the only way the creatures can produce eggs able to survive through a long winter.

Kubanek and her collaborators wanted to understand what was triggering that change, which begins with the production of male rotifers. The switching appears to depend on a pheromone protein that the rotifers release into the water to indicate that other rotifers are nearby. When the rotifer population grows large enough to create a significant concentration of that protein, females start laying eggs that can develop as males. A population large enough to do that usually doesn't build up until fall in North America when winter and the end of the algae food supply are near.

"The rotifers are pretty good at figuring out when conditions are getting bad and when it's time to produce males, have sex, make these overwintering eggs and call it a day," Kubanek said. "They are really making some fairly sophisticated decisions about when to have sex, and when to go it alone."

To understand the complex process, the researchers combined several different research techniques to piece the puzzle together.

Professor Terry Snell in Georgia Tech's School of Biology, along with his students and collaborators at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, studied the partially-sequenced genome of the rotifer and located a receptor for a progesterone-like molecule. Then, using a fluorescent probe developed by James La Clair of the Xenobe Research Institute in San Diego, Paige Stout, a Ph.D. student in Georgia Tech's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry showed that progesterone binds to a receptor in the reproductive systems of female rotifers.

The research
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Contact: John Toon
jtoon@gatech.edu
404-894-6986
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
Source:Eurekalert  

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