Researchers develop tool to identify molecular receptors in worms

January 14, 2020

Worcester, Mass. - January 14, 2020 - Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have developed a tool to identify molecular receptors in worms that are involved in sensing pheromones related to mating, an advance that could speed up neuroscience research into pheromones by eliminating months of work.

Associate professor of biology and biotechnology Jagan Srinivasan, doctoral candidate in biology Douglas K. Reilly, and researchers at Cornell University published their findings in Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom.

Pheromones are chemicals produced by animals that send signals to other animals and trigger social responses, such as mating. Srinivasan and Reilly study pheromones in microscopic worms known as Caenorhabditis elegans, or C. elegans, to better understand how the sense of smell works. Their research could have implications for human research because C. elegans has a nervous system that mimics the basic mechanisms of smell in humans, and loss of the sense of smell is associated with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

Srinivasan and Reilly developed a process that more quickly isolates pheromone receptors in C. elegans. Receptors are specialized proteins that act as docking stations for molecules. When worms are exposed to pheromones, the pheromones latch onto the molecular receptors in the worms.

Isolating a specific molecular receptor traditionally has been a long, laborious process because the worms possess more than 1,000 molecular receptors. Srinivasan described the traditional process--which takes three or four months--as hunting for a needle in a haystack. The new method he and Reilly developed takes about a month.

"Here we are saving months of work, we're streamlining the process, and we're getting a targeted approach," Srinivasan said.

In their study, Srinivasan and Reilly attached a chemical known as an alkyne to an ascaroside, a pheromone produced by C. elegans to attract male worms for mating.

"We wanted to find a way that we could take a pheromone and link it to a probe, yet it would still be biologically active so a male would sense it and respond to it with the right receptor," Reilly said. "Then we wouldn't have to screen 1,200 receptors that are in the genome."

For this study, the researchers focused on the process rather than the resulting receptor, which they said could be a subject of further research. Their probe methods could also be applied to other pheromones and to other research organisms, such as flies, to better understand how receptors function, they said.

"We're looking at this mate attractant pheromone, but there are people looking at pheromones involved in foraging for food and other actions," Reilly said. "For those, we can start to ask what receptors are sensing the pheromone we're using."

In addition, Srinivasan said, "Applications of this new technology could help identify receptors in parasitic nematodes that cause damage to agricultural crops."
-end-
About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

WPI, the global leader in project-based learning, is a distinctive, top-tier technological university founded in 1865 on the principle that students learn most effectively by applying the theory learned in the classroom to the practice of solving real-world problems. Recognized by the National Academy of Engineering with the 2016 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, WPI's pioneering project-based curriculum engages undergraduates in solving important scientific, technological, and societal problems throughout their education and at more than 50 project centers around the world. WPI offers more than 50 bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree programs across 14 academic departments in science, engineering, technology, business, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Its faculty and students pursue groundbreaking research to meet ongoing challenges in health and biotechnology; robotics and the internet of things; advanced materials and manufacturing; cyber, data, and security systems; learning science; and more. http://www.wpi.edu

Contact:

Alison Duffy
Director of Strategic Communications
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Worcester, Massachusetts
508-831-6656; 508-340-5040 (cell)
amduffy@wpi.edu

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Related Biology Articles from Brightsurf:

Experimental Biology press materials available now
Though the Experimental Biology (EB) 2020 meeting was canceled in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, EB research abstracts are being published in the April 2020 issue of The FASEB Journal.

Structural biology: Special delivery
Bulky globular proteins require specialized transport systems for insertion into membranes.

Cell biology: All in a flash!
Scientists of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have developed a tool to eliminate essential proteins from cells with a flash of light.

A biology boost
Assistance during the first years of a biology major leads to higher retention of first-generation students.

Cell biology: Compartments and complexity
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich biologists have taken a closer look at the subcellular distribution of proteins and metabolic intermediates in a model plant.

Cell biology: The complexity of division by two
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich researchers have identified a novel protein that plays a crucial role in the formation of the mitotic spindle, which is essential for correct segregation of a full set of chromosomes to each daughter cell during cell division.

Cell biology: Dynamics of microtubules
Filamentous polymers called microtubules play vital roles in chromosome segregation and molecular transport.

The biology of color
Scientists are on a threshold of a new era of color science with regard to animals, according to a comprehensive review of the field by a multidisciplinary team of researchers led by professor Tim Caro at UC Davis.

Kinky biology
How and why proteins fold is a problem that has implications for protein design and therapeutics.

A new tool to decipher evolutionary biology
A new bioinformatics tool to compare genome data has been developed by teams from the Max F.

Read More: Biology News and Biology Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.