Smells like love...to sea lampreys

July 09, 2019

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Some people are drawn to cologne; others are attracted to perfume. When it comes to sea lampreys, however, spermine smells like love.

In new research led by Michigan State University and published in the current issue of PLoS Biology, spermine, an odorous compound found in male semen, proved to be a powerful aphrodisiac.

Spermine isn't a new discovery. It's been a known quantity in semen since 1678 - at least in humans. Its tractor-beam effect on spawning female sea lampreys is new, however, and it can be yet another key way to potentially control the invasive species.

"We found the male ejaculate contains spermine, a highly specific and potent pheromone, which attracts only mature females," said Weiming Li, fisheries and wildlife professor and senior author of the study. "Mature females likely use spermine to identify males actively releasing sperm in the spawning aggregation."

They need this help because sea lampreys migrate up to river gravel beds ¬- spawning aggregation sites - drawn by other pheromones released from spawning males. These mating cues are merely the billboards, though, along riverine highways that draw them to the sites.

Arriving at the gravel bar of love, the females see many males on nests - all mature and ready to mate. Rather than find "the perfect mate," the females seem to act on localized cues and form promiscuous pairs with many males - in sequence and one at a time - and spawn several times per hour.

Spermine is a coup de gras that helps females make their final selections, navigate the throng of males and find the best ones with which to mate. According to Li, this is the first time scientists have been able to document this behavior in sea lampreys.

"We also were able to document a specific receptor in the noses of females that picks up spermine, and it can be smelled at trace-level concentrations," said Richard Neubig, pharmacology professor and study co-author. "This was a big job requiring nearly 12,000 tests in the MSU high-throughput screening lab to figure out the right pair of chemical and receptor."

Ovulatory females detect this faint cologne, and they respond at levels as low as 10-14 molar, a mere whiff comparable to a single drop of perfume in a pool. It's interesting to note that even higher levels of spermine had no effect on immature females or other males.

Li and a team of scientists identified the receptor for spermine, a trace-associated receptor, or TAAR, in females. Future work will determine if spermine can be used to manage invasive sea lamprey populations. Likewise, MSU scientists will investigate the TAAR mechanism to explore its control potential.

Controlling sea lampreys in the Great Lakes is a critical goal of fisheries scientists. The invasive species infiltrated the upper Great Lakes via the Atlantic Ocean in the 1920s through shipping canals. They feed by attaching themselves to other fish, such as salmon and trout. One sea lamprey can kill more than 40 pounds of fish, and the U.S. and Canadian governments spend approximately $20 million annually to control them in the Great Lakes.
-end-
Additional MSU scientists contributing to this study include: Anne Scott, Liang Jia, Ke Li, Thomas Dexheimer, Edmund Ellsworth and Yu-Wen Chung-Davidson. Zhe Zhang, Qinghua Zhang, Jianfeng Ren and Yao Zu, Shanghai Ocean University (China), also were part of the scientific team.

(Note for media: Please include a link to the original paper in online coverage: http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3000332)

Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for 160 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

For MSU news on the Web, go to MSUToday. Follow MSU News on Twitter at twitter.com/MSUnews.

Michigan State University

Related Perfume Articles from Brightsurf:

Effects of recommender systems in e-commerce vary by product attributes and review ratings
A new study sought to determine how the impact of recommender systems (also called recommenders) is affected by factors such as product type, attributes, and other sources of information about products on retailers' websites.

Male ring-tail lemurs exude fruity-smelling perfume from their wrists to attract mates
Humans aren't the only primates who like smelling nice for their dates.

Shaping the rings of molecules
Canadian chemists discover a natural process to control the shape of 'macrocycles,' molecules of large rings of atoms, for use in pharmaceuticals and electronics.

Kisspeptin hormone injection can boost brain activity associated with attraction
The hormone kisspeptin can enhance brain activity associated with attraction, according to a new study.

Butterflies can acquire new scent preferences and pass these on to their offspring
Two studies from the National University of Singapore demonstrate that insects can learn from their previous experiences and adjust their future behaviour for survival and reproduction.

A single gene for scent reception separates two species of orchid bees
Orchid bees are master perfumers. Males collect chemicals to concoct perfumes unique to their specific species.

Bird bacteria is key to communication and mating
Birds use odor to identify other birds, and researchers at Michigan State University have shown that if the bacteria that produce the odor is altered, it could negatively impact a bird's ability to communicate with other birds or find a mate.

Smells like love...to sea lampreys
Some people are drawn to cologne; others are attracted to perfume.

Scent composition data reveal new insights into perfume success
Mathematical analysis of online perfume data shows how the unique scent combinations found in different perfumes contribute to product popularity and consumer ratings.

Common scents don't always make the best perfumes, suggests mathematical study
Perfumes that use the most popular scents do not always obtain the highest number of ratings, according to an analysis of online perfume reviews.

Read More: Perfume News and Perfume 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.