Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fruit Flies Tricked Into Thinking That Silkworm Moths Are Potential Mates

Date:
October 30, 2006
Source:
University of California - Davis
Summary:
It's all about "the birds and the bees." And now, "the silkworm moths and the fruit flies." A chemical ecologist and a genetics researcher at the University of California, Davis, have joined forces to trick fruit flies into thinking that silkworm moths are potential mates. Groundbreaking research in the labs of chemical ecologist Walter Leal and genetics researcher Deborah Kimbrell shows that genetically engineered fruit flies responded to the silkworm moth scent of a female.

Silkworm moths are white-haired with two-inch wingspans. Above photo: A male courts a female.
Credit: Photo by Samuel Woo, UC Davis Mediaworks

It’s all about “the birds and the bees.” And now, “the silkworm moths and the fruit flies.”

A chemical ecologist and a genetics researcher at the University of California, Davis, have joined forces to trick fruit flies into thinking that silkworm moths are potential mates.

Groundbreaking research in the labs of chemical ecologist Walter Leal and genetics researcher Deborah Kimbrell shows that genetically engineered fruit flies responded to the silkworm moth scent of a female.

The practical implications of the findings could be widespread. Methods that can attract or repel insects have important applications for agricultural pests and medical entomology.  The research could lead to designing better chemicals to attract insects and designing better chemicals to suppress insect communication. That is because insects communicate or smell through their antennae.

Many insect species, including silkworm moths, release sex pheromones or chemical signals to attract a mate. “Silkworm moths utilize smell more strongly than any other senses,”  said Leal, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology. “Moths  keep on the trail of a scent until they find a female.”

“We got a very clear response,” he said. “Our electrophysiological recordings and direct stimulation testing showed that the transgenic fruit flies definitely responded to the moth pheromone.”

The larva or caterpillar stage of the silkworm moth, native to China, weaves a cocoon of silk from protein secreted from its two salivary glands. The silk is economically important to the clothing industry.

Meanwhile, the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, known for hovering around rotting fruit, is considered a model organism or “golden bug,” a prized tool for genetic research and developmental studies.

The UC Davis team obtained fruit fly mutants with an empty neuron (or neuron without a receptor) from Yale University molecular biologist John Carlson. The UC researchers then introduced a sex pheromone receptor from the silkworm moth into the fruit fly, tested the signals, and drew a positive response.

Their work, “Pheromone Reception in Fruit Flies Expressing a Moth’s Odorant Receptor,” is published in the current edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The project sprang from Leal’s mosquito research. He develops and tests “stinky” chemical mixtures that attract female mosquitoes to traps; the mosquitoes are then tested for the presence of the West Nile virus.

As mosquitoes do not utilize species-specific sex pheromones and are not as amenable to genetic manipulations as fruit flies, Leal used the fruit fly-silkworm system to address important olfactory questions.

“In native moth populations, such as the peacock moths, sex pheromones are so sensitive that males can detect female moths from several miles away,” Leal said.  “With the discovery of the first sex pheromone from the silkworm moth (Bombyx mori), it became evident that insects rely on compounds called semiochemicals to recognize not only potential mates, but also prey and specific features of the environment.”  Semiochemicals are compounds used in communication; pheromones are a subclass of semiochemicals.

Using the 17,000 sensilla or receptors on its antennae, the silkworm moth detects not only the major constituent of the sex pheromone, bombykol, but also a second compound, bombykal that is released by the female pheromone gland.

Leal explained that the pheromone-detecting sensilla house two olfactory receptor neurons, one specifically tuned to bombykol and the other to bombykal.

The molecular basis underlying the “extraordinary selectivity and sensitivity” of the insect’s “nose” is still unknown, he said.  Unlike fruit flies, silkworm moths are not readily amenable to genetic manipulation. 

Kimbrell said Drosophila is an excellent model for genetic manipulation, but the fruit fly does not smell pheromones as strongly as the silkworm moth. "We used the powerful Gal4-UAS system of Drosophila to produce transgenic flies,” she said. “This system allows for the expression of virtually any gene, from any organism, into specific cells and tissues of Drosophila."

Leal specializes in the identification and synthesis of insect sex pheromones and the chemical ecology and chemical communication of insects and potential applications for pest control.

Kimbrell, an associate research geneticist in the Section of Molecular and Cellular Biology, College of Biological Sciences, is an expert on fruit flies. A NASA investigator studying fruit flies in space, she is researching the immune systems of the fruit flies launched into space last July aboard the space shuttle Discovery. The human and fruit fly immune systems are similar, she said. 

The research team headed by Leal and Kimbrell includes post-doctorate researchers Zainulabeuddin Syed and Yuko Ishida in the Leal lab, and Kimbrell lab junior scientist Katherine Taylor, now a medical student at UC Irvine.

Grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration funded the research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - Davis. "Fruit Flies Tricked Into Thinking That Silkworm Moths Are Potential Mates." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 October 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061027183514.htm>.
University of California - Davis. (2006, October 30). Fruit Flies Tricked Into Thinking That Silkworm Moths Are Potential Mates. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061027183514.htm
University of California - Davis. "Fruit Flies Tricked Into Thinking That Silkworm Moths Are Potential Mates." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061027183514.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

AP (July 31, 2014) — Seacrest Wolf Preserve on the northern Florida panhandle allows more than 10,000 visitors each year to get up close and personal with Arctic and British Columbian Wolves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

AP (July 31, 2014) — With Florida's panther population rebounding, some ranchers complain the protected predators are once again killing their calves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

AP (July 31, 2014) — Sarasota County, Florida health officials have issued a warning against eating raw oysters and exposing open wounds to coastal and inland waters after a dangerous bacteria killed one person and made another sick. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) — Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:  

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile iPhone Android Web
      Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins