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UNH researcher helps identify key reproductive hormone in oldest vertebrate
Date:10/5/2010

t 100 meters or more.

Yet their important evolutionary position makes hagfish worthy of scientific inquiry. "We look at the evolution of the hormones and receptors and say, 'have they retrained characteristics of their ancestral forms, or are they more similar to higher vertebrates?'" says Sower. "They're a key to understanding the evolution of later evolved vertebrates."

Compounding the urgency of better understanding hagfish reproduction is their growing importance as a fishery in the Gulf of Maine. Despite their vicious nature and least appealing characteristic the stress-induced secretion of mucous from up to 200 slime glands along their bodies hagfish are prized, particularly in Asian markets. Their tough, soft skin is marketed as "eel" skin for wallets, belts and other items ("Because they're not going to sell something that says 'hagfish,'" says Sower, pulling out her own flawless 20-year-old eel skin wallet).

Fished in the Gulf of Maine since 1992, hagfish have been fished out of the waters off Korea and Japan and overfished on the U.S. West coast. They also play a significant role in nutrient cycling and ocean-floor clean-up, feeding primarily on dead and dying fish. Lacking knowledge on their reproductive functions how, when and where they spawn the hagfish could be fished to extinction, says Sower.

Sower, who directs the Center for Molecular and Comparative Endocrinology at UNH, has worked with Nozaki on hagfish reproduction since both scientists were postdoctoral researchers at the University of Washington in 1980. The two, along with Hiroshi Kawauchi of Kitasato University in Japan, have shared students and researchers through a formal collaboration that's produced more than 30 papers. It's also, notes Sower, produced many failures as they've labored to identify the hagfish GTH.

"Now we're filling in the gaps of what we know," she says.


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Contact: Beth Potier
beth.potier@unh.edu
603-862-1566
University of New Hampshire
Source:Eurekalert

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