Insect Glands Help Illuminate Human Fertilization
Secretions from glands in the reproductive tract of fruit flys help sperm survive and guide the sperm on the trip to fertilize an egg, and may provide potential clues to similar human reproductive glands
New research from Carnegie scientists focuses on secretions from glands in the reproductive tract of fruit flies that help sperm survive and guide the sperm on the trip to fertilize an egg. The gene that controls the development of these glands may provides important information about gland development in all insects, as well as potential clues to similar human reproductive glands.
Their work is published this month in Current Biology.
When a female fruit fly receives sperm from a male fruit fly, lubricating secretions in her reproductive tract activate the sperm, store it and guide it to fertilization. Without the aid of these secretions, sperm would not make it to the eggs. Carnegie's Allan Spradling and Jianjun Sun demonstrated that the gene in charge of regulating the development of fruit fly secretion glands is called Hr39. It encodes a steroid receptor protein.
Mutant fruit flies that lack this gene have no such glands formed in the reproductive tract and are infertile. However, their formation could be partially restored with the expression of a mouse gene that encodes an analogous steroid receptor in mammals called Lrh-1. Mutant mice that lack this gene are also infertile.
The work demonstrates that even though it has been millions of years since there was a common ancestor that links fruit flies to miceand, more generally, insects to mammalsthese similar genes are still in charge of at least some of the same functions.
Secretions from reproductive glands in mammals are thought to assist sperm in undergoing similar changes to facilitate fertilization. But studying this process has proved difficult. Knowing that the functions of Hr39 in fruit flies and Lrh-1 in mammals are similar in this regard will facilitate research.
"The fruit fly work in our paper provides a method for studying the cellular physiology governing this reproductive secretion process more quickly, cheaply and effectively than we had previously thought possible," Spradling said.
Spradling and Sun are funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The Carnegie Institution for Science (carnegiescience.edu) is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.
Original article: http://carnegiescience.edu/news/insect_glands_may_illuminate