Neuron By Neuron, Researchers Track How Worms Carry Out Sex With Mates

Posted: Feb 26 2016, 9:15am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

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A study titled “Contrasting responses within a single neuron class enable sex-specific attraction in Caenorhabditis elegans” and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences details how researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and the California Institute of Technology (CALTECH) investigated the mating processes of worms.

The researchers established that using a combination of sensory cues and instincts, male worms burrow into crowded spaces in order to detect suitable mates to mate with. The study centered on the tiny soil-dwelling worm Caenorhabditis elegans.

In deciding which mate to have, the male worm is guided by four male-specific sensory neurons that communicate with the synaptic feed of the other worm.

"With just four sensory neurons the male is able to make a sophisticated calculation about the concentration of certain pheromones that are secreted by other C. elegans seeking to attract a mate," said Jagan Srinivasan, PhD, assistant professor of biology and biotechnology at WPI and a corresponding author of the new paper. "The worm, essentially, calculates a derivative of the concentration curve and uses that information to decide where to move for the best chance at finding a suitable mate."

A professor of biology at Caltech and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher, Paul Sternberg, noted that the research was able to discover the primary sensor of sex pheromones for worms, and a novel mechanism of neural coding to efficiently process information.

A matured C. elegans worm is 1 millimeter long with about 1,000 cells, with a third of these assigned to sustaining the nervous system. Even though the earthworm is small, it is capable of what most other insects or animals can do, including searching for food and seeking for mates, qualifying it to be used as a model in molecular biology.

Most C. elegans worms are hermaphrodites, meaning they carry female eggs and at the same time bear sperm cells for self-fertilization. In a situation where the sperm cells of a particular hermaphrodite worm are depleted, the worm attracts males by secreting the sex hormone pheromones. When a male mates with an hermaphrodite, the worm passes on its genes to another generation.

The four sensory neurons are located close to the male worm’s head – two on each side.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/52" rel="author">Charles I. Omedo</a>
Charles is covering the latest discoveries in science and health as well as new developments in technology. He is the Chief Editor or Intel-News.




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