Nav: Home

Bond gene in fruit flies controls fertility of rival males

September 15, 2015

For many animals, pheromones, which are chemical cues used for communication, guide important decisions such as whom to mate and whom to fight. New research from scientists at the University of Hawai'i - Mānoa's (UHM) Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC), a newly integrated research unit of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), identified a single gene in fruit flies (Drosophila) that controls male pheromone production, male fertility, and, surprisingly, the fertility of rival males.

Insects use a tremendous diversity of pheromone chemical signals to guide their behaviors but little is known about how pheromone diversity evolves.

"Our work reveals that one way new pheromones are produced is by hijacking genes which are used for other biological processes - in this case, male fertility," said Joanne Yew, assistant professor at PBRC and lead author of the study published today in Nature Communications. "The findings reveal a molecular mechanism by which novel traits evolve, a long-standing problem in evolutionary biology."

The gene, named "bond", was found using genetic screening which identified genes in Drosophila that are involved in pheromone synthesis. The researchers used the technique to knockout the function of candidate genes, one by one, within the male reproductive organs. In assessing the pheromone profile of the mutated flies, the scientists noted that the male flies in which bond expression was silenced were missing one of the major sex pheromones.

Bond, as they discovered, is a powerful gene. It encodes an enzyme that is needed to make certain pheromones and components of sperm cell membranes, thus affecting behavior and fertility.

A strain of mutant flies - in which the DNA region encoding bond had been eliminated - was placed with normal females and allowed to mate. The mutant males produced very few offspring compared to normal flies.

To determine the influence of bond on social behaviors, one normal male was placed in the company of either mutant males or normal males. After a few days, males that had been housed with mutant males produced fewer offspring compared to flies housed with normal males.

"Our results show that male flies use pheromones to 'size up' the competition," said Yew. "In the absence of the normal chemical signals that signify potential rivals, males lower their sperm investment. This implies that males need a sense of competition to ensure reproductive success."

These surprising findings show that fertility is a dynamic trait that is affected by social conditions and the perception of sensory signals. More broadly, the results also indicate that the perception of tastes and smells - senses that are used to detect pheromones - can have profound effects on reproductive physiology and could be relevant to reproductive disorders.

In the future, Yew and colleagues will explore how, on a molecular level, pheromone signals alter fertility.

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Related Fertility Articles:

Vaping may harm fertility in young women
E-cigarette usage may impair fertility and pregnancy outcomes, according to a mouse study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.
Are fertility apps useful?
Researchers at EPFL and Stanford have carried out an analysis of the largest datasets from fertility awareness apps.
Marijuana and fertility: Five things to know
For patients who smoke marijuana and their physicians, 'Five things to know about ... marijuana and fertility' provides useful information for people who may want to conceive.
How could a changing climate affect human fertility?
Human adaptation to climate change may include changes in fertility, according to a new study by an international group of researchers.
Migrants face a trade-off between status and fertility
Researchers from the universities of Helsinki, Turku and Missouri as well as the Family Federation of Finland present the first results from a new, extraordinarily comprehensive population-wide dataset that details the lives of over 160,000 World War II evacuees in terms of integration.
More Fertility News and Fertility Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...