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UC Davis scientists' groundbreaking research: Mate-attracting chemicals

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
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Contact: Kathy Keatley Garvey
kegarvey@ucdavis.edu
530-754-6894
University of California - Davis
27-Oct-2006


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