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Species that lay eggs but don't actively keep watch over them often protect their precious eggs from predators by laying them in communal groups or by fortifying them with toxins. However, protecting these eggs from being devoured by their own kind is a completely different game; the catch is that any anti-cannibalistic strategy needs to be an effective deterrent while remaining nontoxic to the cannibals. In a new study published in the open-access journal PLOS Biology on January 10, Sunitha Narasimha, Roshan Vijendravarma and colleagues report how fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), which lay eggs communally, use chemical deception to protect their eggs from being cannibalized by their own larvae.
Using a multidisciplinary approach, Dr. Roshan Vijendravarma from the Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, Switzerland (currently at Institut Curie, Paris, France) and his team of international collaborators teased apart the chemical, sensory, genetic and mechanistic basis of deception using the Drosophila model system.
Team - Observation - Fruit - Fly - Larvae
The team was intrigued by the observation that fruit fly larvae, despite their predatory nature, seldom attacked eggs in their vicinity even when deprived of food. While testing for various plausible defense mechanisms, the researchers found that the extremely thin wax layer within the egg shell acts as a protective barrier that prevents cannibalism.
Using high-resolution mass spectrometry to identify the specific molecules involved, the team discovered that the wax layer is composed of a bouquet of sex pheromones originating from both parents, and then nailed the protective effect on a female chemical called 7,11-heptacosadiene (7,11-HD); this pheromone, normally used to spice up the adult flies' mating, was incorporated into the egg's wax layer by the mother.
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