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1.  Evolved differences in larval social behavior mediated by novel pheromones 
eLife  null;3:e04205.
Pheromones, chemical signals that convey social information, mediate many insect social behaviors, including navigation and aggregation. Several studies have suggested that behavior during the immature larval stages of Drosophila development is influenced by pheromones, but none of these compounds or the pheromone-receptor neurons that sense them have been identified. Here we report a larval pheromone-signaling pathway. We found that larvae produce two novel long-chain fatty acids that are attractive to other larvae. We identified a single larval chemosensory neuron that detects these molecules. Two members of the pickpocket family of DEG/ENaC channel subunits (ppk23 and ppk29) are required to respond to these pheromones. This pheromone system is evolving quickly, since the larval exudates of D. simulans, the sister species of D. melanogaster, are not attractive to other larvae. Our results define a new pheromone signaling system in Drosophila that shares characteristics with pheromone systems in a wide diversity of insects.
eLife digest
The release of chemical signals called pheromones is a common tactic used by animals in many social situations, such as to attract potential mates or to follow trails left by other members of their colony. Larvae of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster—a species commonly studied in the laboratory—gather together when sharing a food source and then cooperate in a way that may increase how efficiently they feed. It has been proposed that pheromones coordinate this behavior, but no larval pheromones had been identified.
Mast et al. noticed that Drosophila larvae crawling on a surface tended to occupy areas where other larvae had crawled before. This suggested that larvae had left attractive chemicals on the surface. Mast et al. identified two such substances by analyzing the chemicals left on the surface and then by testing the response of larvae to each compound.
Ultimately, Mast et al. found that a single sensory neuron in the larva is responsible for detecting these attractive chemical signals. Furthermore, two genes called pickpocket23 and pickpocket29 control this response. These genes were previously known for their roles in detecting sex pheromones, and they are members of a diverse family of calcium channel subunits that are involved in detecting multiple ‘sensory modalities’ such as touch and taste. When either pickpocket23 or pickpocket29 are inactivated, larvae ignore the social cues left by their neighbors.
Mast et al. also looked for an evolutionary role for these pheromones. Larvae of a closely related fly species called Drosophila simulans produce a subtly different blend of compounds to D. melanogaster, and this blend is not attractive to any of the species tested. While Drosophila simulans larvae were not attracted to the cues left by their own species, they were attracted to the pheromones produced by Drosophila melanogaster, indicating that they retain the sensory mechanisms to detect and respond to these pheromones. These results suggest that larvae experience a rapidly evolving, complex, pheromone-rich environment that may help them tailor their behavior to survive.
PMCID: PMC4270068  PMID: 25497433
Drosophila sechellia; Drosophila simulans; pheromone; pheromone receptor; evolution; social behavior; D. melanogaster
Journal of chemical ecology  2009;35(8):878-892.
Caenorhabditis elegans, a bacterivorous nematode, lives in complex rotting fruit, soil, and compost environments, and chemical interactions are required for mating, monitoring population density, recognition of food, avoidance of pathogenic microbes, and other essential ecological functions. Despite being one of the best-studied model organisms in biology, relatively little is known about the signals that C. elegans uses to chemically interact with its environment or as defense. C. elegans exudates were analyzed using several analytical methods and found to contain 36 common metabolites including organic acids, amino acids and sugars, all in relatively high abundance. Furthermore, the concentrations of amino acids in the exudates were dependent on developmental stage. The C. elegans exudates were tested for bacterial chemotaxis using Pseudomonas putida (KT2440), a plant growth promoting rhizobacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PAO1), a soil bacterium pathogenic to C. elegans, and E. coli (OP50), a non-motile bacterium tested as a control. The C. elegans exudates attracted the two Psuedomonas species, but had no detectable antibacterial activity against P. aeruginosa. To our surprise, the exudates of young adult and adult life stages of C. elegans exudates inhibited quorum sensing in the reporter system based on the LuxR bacterial quorum sensing (QS) system, which regulates bacterial virulence and other factors in Vibrio fischeri. We were able to fractionate the QS inhibition and bacterial chemotaxis activities, demonstrating that these activities are chemically distinct. Our results demonstrate that C. elegans can attract its bacterial food and has the potential of partially regulating the virulence of bacterial pathogens by inhibiting specific QS systems.
PMCID: PMC4109049  PMID: 19649780
C. elegans exudates; bacterial chemotaxis; metabolomics; quorum sensing inhibitor; chemical ecology
3.  Toxicity of six plant extracts and two pyridone alkaloids from Ricinus communis against the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae 
Parasites & Vectors  2014;7:312.
The African malaria vector, Anopheles gambiae s.s., is known to feed selectively on certain plants for sugar sources. However, the adaptive significance of this behaviour especially on how the extracts of such plants impact on the fitness of this vector has not been explored. This study determined the toxicity and larvicidal activity on this vector of extracts from six selected plants found in Kenya and two compounds identified from Ricinus communis: 3-carbonitrile-4-methoxy-N-methyl-2-pyridone (ricinine), and its carboxylic acid derivative 3-carboxy-4-methoxy-N-methyl-2-pyridone, the latter compound being reported for the first time from this plant.
Feeding assays tested for toxic effects of extracts from the plants Artemisia afra Jacq. ex Willd, Bidens pilosa L., Parthenium hysterophorus L., Ricinus coummunis L., Senna didymobotrya Fresen. and Tithonia diversifolia Hemsl. on adult females and larvicidal activity was tested against third-instar larvae of Anopheles gambiae s.s. Mortality of larvae and adult females was monitored for three and eight days, respectively; Probit analysis was used to calculate LC50. Survival was analysed with Kaplan-Meier Model. LC-MS was used to identify the pure compounds.
Of the six plants screened, extracts from T. diversifolia and R. communis were the most toxic against adult female mosquitoes after 7 days of feeding, with LC50 of 1.52 and 2.56 mg/mL respectively. Larvicidal activity of all the extracts increased with the exposure time with the highest mortality recorded for the extract from R. communis after 72 h of exposure (LC50 0.18 mg/mL). Mosquitoes fed on solutions of the pure compounds, 3-carboxy-4-methoxy-N-methyl-2-pyridone and ricinine survived almost as long as those fed on the R. communis extract with mean survival of 4.93 ± 0.07, 4.85 ± 0.07 and 4.50 ± 0.05 days respectively.
Overall, these findings demonstrate that extracts from the six plant species exhibit varying bioactivity against the larvae and adult females of An. gambiae s.s. T. diversifolia and R. communis showed highest bioactivity against adult females An. gambiae and larvae while longevity of female An. gambiae s.s. decreased with exposure time to the two pure compounds.
PMCID: PMC4098926  PMID: 24996560
Anopheles gambiae s.s; Malaria; Mosquito; Alkaloid; Larvicidal; Toxicity; Ricinus coummunis; Tithonia diversifolia
4.  Subterranean, Herbivore-Induced Plant Volatile Increases Biological Control Activity of Multiple Beneficial Nematode Species in Distinct Habitats 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38146.
While the role of herbivore-induced volatiles in plant-herbivore-natural enemy interactions is well documented aboveground, new evidence suggests that belowground volatile emissions can protect plants by attracting entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs). However, due to methodological limitations, no study has previously detected belowground herbivore-induced volatiles in the field or quantified their impact on attraction of diverse EPN species. Here we show how a belowground herbivore-induced volatile can enhance mortality of agriculturally significant root pests. First, in real time, we identified pregeijerene (1,5-dimethylcyclodeca-1,5,7-triene) from citrus roots 9–12 hours after initiation of larval Diaprepes abbreviatus feeding. This compound was also detected in the root zone of mature citrus trees in the field. Application of collected volatiles from weevil-damaged citrus roots attracted native EPNs and increased mortality of beetle larvae (D. abbreviatus) compared to controls in a citrus orchard. In addition, field applications of isolated pregeijerene caused similar results. Quantitative real-time PCR revealed that pregeijerene increased pest mortality by attracting four species of naturally occurring EPNs in the field. Finally, we tested the generality of this root-zone signal by application of pregeijerene in blueberry fields; mortality of larvae (Galleria mellonella and Anomala orientalis) again increased by attracting naturally occurring populations of an EPN. Thus, this specific belowground signal attracts natural enemies of widespread root pests in distinct agricultural systems and may have broad potential in biological control of root pests.
PMCID: PMC3384653  PMID: 22761668
5.  Interspecific Nematode Signals Regulate Dispersal Behavior 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38735.
Dispersal is an important nematode behavior. Upon crowding or food depletion, the free living bacteriovorus nematode Caenorhabditis elegans produces stress resistant dispersal larvae, called dauer, which are analogous to second stage juveniles (J2) of plant parasitic Meloidogyne spp. and infective juveniles (IJ)s of entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN), e.g., Steinernema feltiae. Regulation of dispersal behavior has not been thoroughly investigated for C. elegans or any other nematode species. Based on the fact that ascarosides regulate entry in dauer stage as well as multiple behaviors in C. elegans adults including mating, avoidance and aggregation, we hypothesized that ascarosides might also be involved in regulation of dispersal behavior in C. elegans and for other nematodes such as IJ of phylogenetically related EPNs.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis of C. elegans dauer conditioned media, which shows strong dispersing activity, revealed four known ascarosides (ascr#2, ascr#3, ascr#8, icas#9). A synthetic blend of these ascarosides at physiologically relevant concentrations dispersed C. elegans dauer in the presence of food and also caused dispersion of IJs of S. feltiae and J2s of plant parasitic Meloidogyne spp. Assay guided fractionation revealed structural analogs as major active components of the S. feltiae (ascr#9) and C. elegans (ascr#2) dispersal blends. Further analysis revealed ascr#9 in all Steinernema spp. and Heterorhabditis spp. infected insect host cadavers.
Ascaroside blends represent evolutionarily conserved, fundamentally important communication systems for nematodes from diverse habitats, and thus may provide sustainable means for control of parasitic nematodes.
PMCID: PMC3368880  PMID: 22701701
6.  Induced Release of a Plant-Defense Volatile ‘Deceptively’ Attracts Insect Vectors to Plants Infected with a Bacterial Pathogen 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(3):e1002610.
Transmission of plant pathogens by insect vectors is a complex biological process involving interactions between the plant, insect, and pathogen. Pathogen-induced plant responses can include changes in volatile and nonvolatile secondary metabolites as well as major plant nutrients. Experiments were conducted to understand how a plant pathogenic bacterium, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (Las), affects host preference behavior of its psyllid (Diaphorina citri Kuwayama) vector. D. citri were attracted to volatiles from pathogen-infected plants more than to those from non-infected counterparts. Las-infected plants were more attractive to D. citri adults than non-infected plants initially; however after feeding, psyllids subsequently dispersed to non-infected rather than infected plants as their preferred settling point. Experiments with Las-infected and non-infected plants under complete darkness yielded similar results to those recorded under light. The behavior of psyllids in response to infected versus non-infected plants was not influenced by whether or not they were carriers of the pathogen. Quantification of volatile release from non-infected and infected plants supported the hypothesis that odorants mediate psyllid preference. Significantly more methyl salicylate, yet less methyl anthranilate and D-limonene, was released by infected than non-infected plants. Methyl salicylate was attractive to psyllids, while methyl anthranilate did not affect their behavior. Feeding on citrus by D. citri adults also induced release of methyl salicylate, suggesting that it may be a cue revealing location of conspecifics on host plants. Infected plants were characterized by lower levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, zinc, and iron, as well as, higher levels of potassium and boron than non-infected plants. Collectively, our results suggest that host selection behavior of D. citri may be modified by bacterial infection of plants, which alters release of specific headspace volatiles and plant nutritional contents. Furthermore, we show in a laboratory setting that this apparent pathogen-mediated manipulation of vector behavior may facilitate pathogen spread.
Author Summary
In this investigation, we experimentally demonstrate specific mechanisms through which a bacterial plant pathogen induces plant responses that modify behavior of its insect vector. Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, a fastidious, phloem-limited bacterium responsible for causing huanglongbing disease of citrus, induced release of a specific volatile chemical, methyl salicylate, which increased attractiveness of infected plants to its insect vector, Diaphorina citri, and caused vectors to initially prefer infected plants. However, the insect vectors subsequently dispersed to non-infected plants as their preferred location of prolonged settling because of likely sub-optimal nutritional content of infected plants. The duration of initial feeding on infected plants was sufficiently long for the vectors to acquire the pathogen before they dispersed to non-infected plants, suggesting that the bacterial pathogen manipulates behavior of its insect vector to promote its own proliferation. The behavior of psyllids in response to infected versus non-infected plants was not influenced by whether or not they were carriers of the pathogen and was similar under both light and dark conditions. Feeding on citrus by D. citri adults also induced the release of methyl salicylate, suggesting that it may be a cue revealing location of conspecifics on host plants.
PMCID: PMC3310815  PMID: 22457628
7.  Identification and Synthesis of a Male-Produced Pheromone for the Neotropical Root Weevil Diaprepes abbreviatus 
Journal of Chemical Ecology  2012;38(4):408-417.
An unsaturated hydroxy-ester pheromone was isolated from the headspace and feces of male Diaprepes abbreviatus, identified, and synthesized. The pheromone, methyl (E)-3-(2-hydroxyethyl)-4-methyl-2-pentenoate, was discovered by gas chromatography-coupled electroantennogram detection (GC-EAD), and identified by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR). The synthesis yielded an 86:14 mixture of methyl (E)-3-(2-hydroxyethyl)-4-methyl-2-pentenoate (active) and methyl (Z)-3-(2-hydroxyethyl)-4-methyl-2-pentenoate (inactive), along with a lactone breakdown product. The activity of the synthetic E-isomer was confirmed by GC-EAD, GC-MS, NMR, and bioassays. No antennal response was observed to the Z-isomer or the lactone. In a two-choice olfactometer bioassay, female D. abbreviatus moved upwind towards the synthetic pheromone or natural pheromone more often compared with clean air. Males showed no clear preference for the synthetic pheromone. This pheromone, alone or in combination with plant volatiles, may play a role in the location of males by female D. abbreviatus.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10886-012-0096-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3324679  PMID: 22434385
Citrus root weevil; Pheromone; GC-EAD; Methyl (E)-3-(2-hydroxyethyl)-4-methyl-2-pentenoate; Coleoptera; Curculionidae; Crop pest
8.  Ascaroside Expression in Caenorhabditis elegans Is Strongly Dependent on Diet and Developmental Stage 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e17804.
The ascarosides form a family of small molecules that have been isolated from cultures of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. They are often referred to as “dauer pheromones” because most of them induce formation of long-lived and highly stress resistant dauer larvae. More recent studies have shown that ascarosides serve additional functions as social signals and mating pheromones. Thus, ascarosides have multiple functions. Until now, it has been generally assumed that ascarosides are constitutively expressed during nematode development.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Cultures of C. elegans were developmentally synchronized on controlled diets. Ascarosides released into the media, as well as stored internally, were quantified by LC/MS. We found that ascaroside biosynthesis and release were strongly dependent on developmental stage and diet. The male attracting pheromone was verified to be a blend of at least four ascarosides, and peak production of the two most potent mating pheromone components, ascr#3 and asc#8 immediately preceded or coincided with the temporal window for mating. The concentration of ascr#2 increased under starvation conditions and peaked during dauer formation, strongly supporting ascr#2 as the main population density signal (dauer pheromone). After dauer formation, ascaroside production largely ceased and dauer larvae did not release any ascarosides. These findings show that both total ascaroside production and the relative proportions of individual ascarosides strongly correlate with these compounds' stage-specific biological functions.
Ascaroside expression changes with development and environmental conditions. This is consistent with multiple functions of these signaling molecules. Knowledge of such differential regulation will make it possible to associate ascaroside production to gene expression profiles (transcript, protein or enzyme activity) and help to determine genetic pathways that control ascaroside biosynthesis. In conjunction with findings from previous studies, our results show that the pheromone system of C. elegans mimics that of insects in many ways, suggesting that pheromone signaling in C. elegans may exhibit functional homology also at the sensory level. In addition, our results provide a strong foundation for future behavioral modeling studies.
PMCID: PMC3058051  PMID: 21423575
9.  A blend of small molecules regulates both mating and development in Caenorhabditis elegans 
Nature  2008;454(7208):1115-1118.
In many organisms, population-density sensing and sexual attraction rely on small-molecule-based signalling systems1,2. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, population density is monitored through specific glycosides of the dideoxysugar ascarylose (the `ascarosides') that promote entry into an alternative larval stage, the non-feeding and highly persistent dauer stage3,4. In addition, adult C. elegans males are attracted to hermaphrodites by a previously unidentified small-molecule signal5,6. Here we show, by means of combinatorial activity-guided fractionation of the C. elegans metabolome, that the mating signal consists of a synergistic blend of three dauer-inducing ascarosides, which we call ascr#2, ascr#3 and ascr#4. This blend of ascarosides acts as a potent male attractant at very low concentrations, whereas at the higher concentrations required for dauer formation the compounds no longer attract males and instead deter hermaphrodites. The ascarosides ascr#2 and ascr#3 carry different, but overlapping, information, as ascr#3 is more potent as a male attractant than ascr#2, whereas ascr#2 is slightly more potent than ascr#3 in promoting dauer formation7. We demonstrate that ascr#2, ascr#3 and ascr#4 are strongly synergistic, and that two types of neuron, the amphid single-ciliated sensory neuron type K (ASK) and the male-specific cephalic companion neuron (CEM), are required for male attraction by ascr#3. On the basis of these results, male attraction and dauer formation in C. elegans appear as alternative behavioural responses to a common set of signalling molecules. The ascaroside signalling system thus connects reproductive and developmental pathways and represents a unique example of structure- and concentration-dependent differential activity of signalling molecules.
PMCID: PMC2774729  PMID: 18650807
10.  Effects of elevated [CO2] on maize defence against mycotoxigenic Fusarium verticillioides 
Plant, Cell & Environment  2014;37(12):2691-2706.
Maize is by quantity the most important C4 cereal crop; however, future climate changes are expected to increase maize susceptibility to mycotoxigenic fungal pathogens and reduce productivity. While rising atmospheric [CO2] is a driving force behind the warmer temperatures and drought, which aggravate fungal disease and mycotoxin accumulation, our understanding of how elevated [CO2] will effect maize defences against such pathogens is limited. Here we report that elevated [CO2] increases maize susceptibility to Fusarium verticillioides proliferation, while mycotoxin levels are unaltered. Fumonisin production is not proportional to the increase in F. verticillioides biomass, and the amount of fumonisin produced per unit pathogen is reduced at elevated [CO2]. Following F. verticillioides stalk inoculation, the accumulation of sugars, free fatty acids, lipoxygenase (LOX) transcripts, phytohormones and downstream phytoalexins is dampened in maize grown at elevated [CO2]. The attenuation of maize 13-LOXs and jasmonic acid production correlates with reduced terpenoid phytoalexins and increased susceptibility. Furthermore, the attenuated induction of 9-LOXs, which have been suggested to stimulate mycotoxin biosynthesis, is consistent with reduced fumonisin per unit fungal biomass at elevated [CO2]. Our findings suggest that elevated [CO2] will compromise maize LOX-dependent signalling, which will influence the interactions between maize and mycotoxigenic fungi.
Elevated [CO2] increases maize susceptibility to Fusarium verticillioides proliferation but mycotoxin levels are unaltered. The attenuation of maize 13-LOXs and JA production correlates with reduced terpenoid phytoalexins and increased susceptibility. Furthermore, the attenuated induction of 9-LOXs, which have been suggested to stimulate mycotoxin biosynthesis, is consistent with reduced fumonisin per unit fungal biomass at elevated [CO2].
PMCID: PMC4278449  PMID: 24689748
C4 crop; climate change; fumonisin; jasmonic acid; lipoxigenase; mycotoxin; phytoalexins

Results 1-10 (10)